On Tuesday, Suffolk County officials announced a plan to increase patrols on local waterways for the Fourth of July weekend. Credit: James Carbone

With a spike in sales during the coronavirus pandemic, there is worry about what more boats in the hands of inexperienced operators could mean for safety on Long Island’s waters for the Fourth of July weekend.

Suffolk County Acting Police Commissioner Stuart Cameron on Tuesday urged caution, particularly for new boaters or those with poor training — or none at all.

Cameron said that one of the top factors in boating crashes is "poor decision making" — particularly fueled by alcohol consumption.

"There is never just one beer," he said at a news conference to promote boating safety. "One beer always turns into two, and then your decision-making ability starts to degrade from there."

According to the U.S. Coast Guard’s 2020 Recreational Boating Statistics report, in 2019, there were 165 accidents in New York, of which 17 were fatal, with 17 deaths. Nationwide, there were 4,168 accidents involving 613 deaths and 2,559 injuries in 2019, the report said. Of those who drowned — four out of five fatal accident victims — 86% were not wearing life jackets, based on reported usage.

Sales of boats across the United States went up in 2020 during the pandemic — as more Americans took advantage of flexible work arrangements and a desire to be outdoors.

According to the National Marine Manufacturers Association, the sale of boats, marine products and related services in the United States hit a 13-year high in 2020, reaching $47 billion, up 9% from the year before.

That national trend has reverberated on the Island, according to Cameron.

"There’s a lot of new boat operators on the water, and I’m sure people that bought a boat last year and discovered the wonders of the waters … will be back out again this year, so I’m very confident that there will be more vessels on the water this year," he said.

In a news release, the Town of Huntington announced that it would be enforcing its annual, temporary 5 mph boating speed zones in area waterways from 8:30 p.m. to 11:00 p.m. July 4.

"The Town implements these temporary speed zones due to the overwhelming number of boats in our waters — from 800 to 1,000 boats — for Fourth of July fireworks, celebrations and the danger that a wake from a speeding boat creates, potentially destabilizing a smaller or overcrowded boat."

With James Carbone

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