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Lawmaker urges mandatory boating course

Suffolk County Legislator Steve Stern, with (l-r) safe

Suffolk County Legislator Steve Stern, with (l-r) safe boating advocate Joseph Genovese, Town of Babylon Councilman Lindsay Henry, Past Commodore of the Greater Huntington Council of Yacht & Boating Clubs Jon Ten Haagen (cq), and safe boating advocate, Gina Lieneck, behind him, speaks at a press conference at Tanner Park in Copiague introducing the new boater safety law which will require all boaters operating a vessel on Suffolk County waterways to complete an approved boating safety course. (Aug. 6, 2012) Credit: Steve Pfost

Safety advocates joined government leaders Monday in support of a proposed Suffolk County law that would require all boaters to take a training course or face fines and even jail time for repeat offenses.

"How many more tragedies must we have in our community?" asked Suffolk Legis. Steve Stern (D-Huntington), sponsor of the bill sparked by a July Fourth accident in Oyster Bay in which three children died when a cabin cruiser capsized, as well other fatal boating accidents.

Stern, who is expected to introduce the bill Tuesday, said the legislation would take effect one year after passage and signing by Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, who has endorsed it.

That year would give boaters who have not yet taken a course time to attend one offered by nonprofit groups and various government agencies, Stern said. After that, anyone who lacks a safety certificate when stopped by law enforcement officers would face a $250 fine for the first offense, $500 for the second, and $1,000 and up to one year in jail for a third offense.

Stern said he hopes to have a vote by the full legislature by early September. He said several other legislators from both parties have told him they will co-sponsor the bill.

Gina Lieneck, whose daughter, Brianna, 11, was fatally injured in a 2005 collision on Great South Bay with a boat operated by a man who was later charged with boating while intoxicated, was one of several speakers who joined Stern in Tanner Park in Copiague to say "people need to have the knowledge. You should not be able to buy a boat and the next day put it in the water." Lieneck also suffered serious head and neck injuries in the crash.

Lieneck said the operator of the boat that hit her family's vessel was lost and had no electronic navigation system, and did not know how to use the marine radio or the safety flares on board to call for help.

Jon Ten Haagen, past commodore of the Greater Huntington Council of Yacht & Boating Clubs, said, "We need people to be educated on the water."

And Joseph Genovese, a licensed captain from Copiague Harbor, said, "It makes absolutely no sense where, to run a Jet Ski, everyone has to have a safe boating class, but you could go out and buy a Queen Mary and you need no credential. This is something that is really needed. People have no idea that there are rules of the road."

He noted Connecticut and New Jersey have a requirement for boater education already.

If the state Legislature passes a law that would require education, like one recently introduced by Sen. Charles Fuschillo Jr. (R-Merrick), "state regulations would supersede the local regulations," Stern said. But if the state does not act, as in many instances in the past, such as banning phosphate detergents, "Suffolk County really does lead the way."

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