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Vote on Suffolk bill to require propeller guards

The Suffolk County Legislature voted unanimously Tuesday night for legislation dubbed Ryan’s Law to require propeller guards on boats used for instruction after the parents of Ryan Weiss, who lost their son last summer in a tragic boating accident, urged passage.

The local law, according to sponsor Legis. William Spencer (D-Centerport), is the first of its kind in the nation and could help spur action on a similar state law. Ryan’s parents, Kellie and Kevin Weiss, of Greenlawn, have lobbied Assemb. Andrew Raia (R-Huntington) to sponsor a similar bill in Albany.

Ryan, 12, died July 18, 2017, after being struck by a boat propeller while taking part in a group sailing lesson at the Centerport Yacht Club.

As part of the lesson, the boat was intentionally capsized and Ryan was taken from the water into a small, inflatable Zodiac boat. Ryan was sitting on the edge of the craft, but fell off when the boat accelerated and was caught by the propeller.

“It was an accident,” said Kellie Weiss. “But the simple use of a prop protector could have possibly prevented it. Nothing will change the outcome for us, but hopefully no other family will have to go through this.”

Under the bill, any vessel used to teach anyone under age 18 about marine navigation and safety in a formal setting such as an instructional course conducted by a marina, yacht club or boating organization would have to have a cage or encasement surrounding the propeller. Violators could be fined $250 to $500 for a first offense and $750 to $1,500 for subsequent offenses.

Spencer said the legislation is important to protect youngsters who are in training to improve their skills.

Nationwide, there were 171 reported incidents of propeller strikes, with 175 injuries and 24 deaths, Spencer said.

“This bill is bipartisan, practical, well thought out and doesn’t impinge on the boaters,” said Spencer, suggesting boating families consider installing prop guards on their own.

Legis. Tom Cilmi, GOP caucus leader, called it, “a regulation that will affect a very small number of vessels and for the safety provided, it’s well worthwhile.”

Spencer said he plans a bill signing ceremony to honor Ryan and his family around the anniversary of his death.

“The family has been dealing with unspeakable pain and everything is a reminder to them,” he said. “We appreciate what the family has done and we hope it is a comfort to them that this law will protect other kids from unexpected tragedy.”

Kellie Weiss said: “I will be happy to know that Ryan’s legacy is a law that will protect children going forward. No one wants to put their child in any place that’s not safe.”

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