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Nassau Marine Bureau cites greater awareness of drunken boating dangers

Officer Michael Larmony, left, and Lt Jimmy McAndrew

Officer Michael Larmony, left, and Lt Jimmy McAndrew police the East Bay. Nassau County participates in Operation Dry Water, a national campaign to bolster boating enforcement efforts. Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams, Jr.

Music and laughter from bars and restaurants echoed over the water Friday night as a police boat cruised Freeport's Nautical Mile, making its presence known.

"Omnipresence," said Nassau police Sgt. Tim McCaffrey, describing a tactic used by the Marine Bureau to let boaters who may be out drinking know they're on patrol.

McCaffrey's team watched passing vessels closely, stopping several times to educate boaters about safety laws. Some were missing navigational lights, life vests or flares.

But the night was a success -- no tickets were issued for boating while intoxicated.

It was a good start for Operation Dry Water, a national campaign to discourage drunken boating before waters fill with power boats on the July Fourth holiday weekend.

Suffolk police are also strictly enforcing BWI laws and plan to increase patrols for the holiday, a spokeswoman said.

Besides boosting holiday patrols, the Nassau Marine Bureau is emphasizing public education this summer in hopes of continuing an encouraging trend.

McCaffrey said he's seen a decrease in drunken boating incidents in his eight years with the unit. There were 11 BWIs in Nassau in 2012 and less than half that many last year, authorities said.

After the devastation of superstorm Sandy, McCaffrey says there are fewer boats in the water as well as fewer dockside bars luring boaters. More boaters are also hiring someone to captain their vessel if they plan on drinking, he said.

"There's more awareness of the laws," he said. "There's a monetary loss, you have to go to court -- it's embarrassing."

Nationally, the number of recreational boater deaths where alcohol use was the primary factor dropped 37 percent between 2009 and 2013, according to U.S. Coast Guard statistics. From 2012 to 2013, alcohol-related boater deaths dropped 31 percent.

Two summers ago in the Great South Bay, Christopher Mannino was killed when Brian Andreski, then 27 and at the controls of a speedboat, plowed into the side of Mannino's fishing vessel.

Andreski, drunk at the time of the crash, later pleaded guilty to aggravated vehicular homicide and second-degree manslaughter.

While cruising Zach's Bay near Nikon at Jones Beach Theater Saturday, Nassau Officer Michael Larmony saw nothing amiss among the scores of people enjoying a sunny afternoon on the water.

"We just want everyone to have fun and be safe," he said. "We don't want any more tragedies. We've had enough."

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