Officials in the Town of North Hempstead are warning residents to boat responsibly as the holiday weekend approaches.
“We’re sending a message loud and clear to anyone even thinking of drinking and operating a boat,” said Town Supervisor Judi Bosworth. “Don’t do it.”
The town will be stepping up its harbor patrol triplefold, and anyone caught boating while intoxicated will face severe consequences, Bosworth announced at a Wednesday news conference.
She was joined by several officials, including Nassau District Attorney Madeline Singas, state Sen. Jack M. Martins (R-Old Westbury), Assemb. Michelle Schimel (D-Great Neck) and members of local law enforcement.
Schimel and Martins discussed a new bill, recently passed by the State Senate and Assembly, that would link BWIs and DWIs on a person’s record. Under the bill, dubbed Tiffany Heitkamp’s Law, judges would consider an individual’s history of DWIs when sentencing for BWIs.
The bill was introduced in 2007 by state Sen. John DeFrancisco (R-Syracuse), after Heitkamp, 20, of Syracuse was killed in a BWI incident the year before. The legislation languished in the Assembly for nearly a decade until passing earlier this month, and is now awaiting a review by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.
“There really is no difference between drinking and boating and drinking and driving,” Martins said. “In the near future, when the governor signs this bill, there will be consequences [for BWI] on land as well.”
It is illegal in New York State to operate a boat or other watercraft with a blood alcohol content of 0.08 percent — also the state limit for vehicle drivers — or higher. A first-time offense is punishable as a misdemeanor with up to a year in jail and a fine up to $1,000.
Last year, there were 70 BWI arrests statewide, according to the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation’s Bureau of Marine Services. There were 16 reported boating fatalities in New York last year, half of which were drug- or alcohol-related. Between 2005 and 2015, alcohol and drug use were determined to be a contributing factor in more than 20 percent of all boating deaths.
Singas spoke in support of the Tiffany Heitkamp Law, saying that the number of BWIs “skyrockets” over the holiday weekend.
“It’s a common-sense fight,” Singas said. “There’s no reason to take chances with people’s lives and your life.”
North Hempstead isn’t alone in boosting its harbor patrol presence during the July Fourth weekend. The Town of Oyster Bay and the City of Glen Cove will increase patrols during extended hours. In Glen Cove, Oyster Bay and North Hempstead, harbor patrol bay constables are authorized to conduct Breathalyzer tests.
In Suffolk County, the town of Islip will add extra patrols, and bay constables are also authorized to conduct breathalyzer tests.
The Coast Guard will also team up with local law enforcement this weekend as part of Operation Dry Water to keep the waters safe.
Boating tips from the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation
- Do not boat while intoxicated
- Stay within speed limits, which are generally cut to 5 mph within 100 feet of the shore, a dock, pier, raft, float or anchored boat
- Stock the craft with U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jackets and other required equipment
- Take a boating safety course, which is required for all individuals born on or after May 1, 1996 who operate a motorboat
- Do not overload the boat
- Follow standard boating Rules of the Road