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Steve Israel recreational boat safety bill would set capacity limits

FBI divers and Nassau County police used air

FBI divers and Nassau County police used air bags to raise the Kandi Won which sank on the night of July Fourth in Oyster Bay. (July 11, 2012) Credit: Howard Schnapp

Capacity limits for thousands of new recreational boats would be established under federal legislation that aims to prevent tragedies like the 2012 sinking of the overcrowded Kandi Won in Oyster Bay in which three children died.

Rep. Steve Israel's bill would require that all boats less than 45 feet long have a specified maximum weight and limit on the number of individuals allowed aboard.

The Huntington Democrat is scheduled to unveil the measure Friday morning at the Huntington Yacht Club, joined by boating safety advocates, including parents of children killed on the Kandi Won.

"We need to be doing everything we can to keep boaters as safe as possible," Israel said this week.

The new standards -- designed to cover the vast majority of recreational vessels, including sailboats -- would take effect in January 2016 and apply only to new boats.

The U.S. Coast Guard currently sets capacity limits only for boats less than 20 feet.

Israel's bill would also establish limits for how many people could safely be on a cruiser's flying bridge, a steering station on top of the cabin.

An investigation by the Nassau County district attorney's office of the July 4, 2012, sinking determined overcrowding was the primary cause of the boat capsizing on its way back to Huntington after a fireworks display.

The 34-footer had 27 people aboard, but there were no passenger or weight limits set by the government or the manufacturer. The district attorney's report said having four adults and three children on the flying bridge contributed to the instability.

Israel has no Senate co-sponsor yet for his safety bill, which will be introduced in the coming session. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) has been trying to get a similar measure through his chamber since the accident and said he plans to reintroduce it. His bill does not include a capacity limit for flying bridges.

The American Boat and Yacht Council, the industry association that sets capacity ratings followed voluntarily by most manufacturers, requires ratings on boats up to 26 feet. It rejected raising the maximum length after the Kandi Won sinking, saying Coast Guard accident data showed there weren't enough accidents nationwide to justify changing the standard.

But council president John Adey said Thursday that his organization is going to establish flying bridge capacity limits. Council committees are working out the details, and Adey said he expects the limits to be approved in 2016 by his governing board for implementation the following year.

Israel's legislation would also provide grants for municipalities, nonprofits and for-profit companies to offer boating-safety classes. The money would come from a percentage of federal funds collected through marine fuel taxes, as well as fees on certain pieces of fishing equipment.

Jackie Martin, commodore of the Greater Huntington Council of Yacht and Boating Clubs, supports the bill, saying it would "remove the ambiguity" about how many people can safely be on larger recreational boats.

Lisa and Paul Gaines, parents of Victoria Gaines, 7, who died on the Kandi Won, were expected to attend Friday's event and show their support.

"How many more innocent lives must be lost before the necessary and overdue steps are taken?" Lisa Gaines said.

Along with Victoria Gaines, cousins David Aureliano, 12, of Kings Park, and Harlie Treanor, 11, of Huntington Station, were trapped in the Kandi Won cabin and died when it capsized.

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