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Mount Sinai blessing of boats puts spotlight on safety

Rev. Jerry Nedelka, during the blessing of the

Rev. Jerry Nedelka, during the blessing of the fleet at the Mt. Sinai Yacht Club in Mt. Sinai, Sunday morning on June. 14, 2015. Credit: James Carbone

AnnaMarie Hartill still gets anxious steering her uncle's 18-foot boat in Long Island Sound.

"I'm a nervous person, so I'm always nervous," said Hartill, 16, who has piloted the 2,700-pound craft three times. "It's rare for me to drive it the whole way. I give up the wheel to my uncle when an emergency arises."

The Glastron Bowrider was one of 46 vessels blessed by a clergyman and among about 18 inspected for safety by Port Jefferson's Coast Guard Auxiliary Sunday in Mount Sinai Harbor. The event, held by the Mount Sinai Yacht Club, drew about 60 people, an organizer said.

Jerome J. Nedelka, 77, a retired Episcopal reverend, has performed the blessing 13 straight years. Due to recent boating accidents, he said, the spiritual message behind his blessings this year is especially important.

"People are being made aware of boating accidents and they will talk about it with me," said Nedelka, who owns a 20-foot fishing boat and has taken boating safety courses with the NY Sail and Power Squadron. "When I bless a boat, I always say, 'May your summer be happy and safe.' It is my intention to always remind them that there are safe boating courses."

Boaters "can be 20, 30 years old," said commodore John Howell, 67, head of the yacht club. " . . . Many of us grew up with boats and learned through experience [but] . . . the buck stops with the operator, who's ultimately responsible for the safety and well-being of the vessel and its passengers."

By passing an online New York boating safety education course, teens as young as 14 can operate a watercraft alone. People older than 18 can operate a boat without taking a safety test.

Hartill, of Sound Beach, received her state boating license at age 11 after taking a two-day boating safety test taught by the Coast Guard Auxiliary, she said.

Thomas Lynch, 55, of the Port Jefferson Coast Guard Auxiliary, a volunteer team, said state boating training courses are too lax. He emphasized that boaters should have all necessary emergency equipment, including life jackets, and know where they are, adding it's important to take a boating safety exam in person.

Jane Bonner, 50, a Brookhaven town councilwoman, said such tests are not required for people over 18 in New York because of a lack of funding.

"Writing bills and creating laws are all well and good, but if you don't put the money behind it to enforce it, it's not worth the paper it's printed on," she said.

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