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Bellone signs Suffolk County law requiring propeller guards after tragic death

Ryan's Law states any vessel used to teach minors about marine navigation and safety in a formal setting must have a cage or encasement surrounding the propeller.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone signed Ryan's Law, legislation requiring boats used for instructing minors to be equipped with propeller guards, on Saturday in Centerport. The law is named after Ryan Weiss, a 12-year-old who died during a sailboat safety lesson in Centerport last year. (Credit: Newsday / Jean-Paul Salamanca)

In what she described as “an extremely bittersweet” moment, Kellie Weiss watched Saturday as Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone signed into law legislation aimed at protecting children like her son, who died in a boating accident last year.

The law, which Kellie and her husband Kevin lobbied for after their 12-year-old son Ryan was killed by a boat propeller, requires boats used for instructing minors to be equipped with propeller guards.

“We stand here forever heartbroken, and though this can’t bring Ryan back to us today, we hope that we have the opportunity to protect somebody else, some other child out there,” Kellie Weiss, who lives in Greenlawn, said.

Ryan died July 18, 2017, during a controlled capsizing lesson at the Centerport Yacht Club, where the bill signing was held. After being taken from the water in an inflatable Zodiac boat, Ryan fell overboard when the boat took off and the propeller fatally struck him.

Kellie and Kevin Weiss remembered their son Saturday as a child who loved the water and boating at the yacht club.

“This was Ryan’s happy place,” Kellie Weiss said tearfully.

Suffolk Legis. William Spencer (D-Centerport), who spoke at the ceremony, credited Kellie Weiss for “speaking as only a mother could speak” when she came before the legislature earlier this year advocating for the bill, which was unanimously approved.

“Every Democrat, every Republican, this is something we came together to do and it was a wonderful thing,” Spencer said.

Ryan’s Law, which the Suffolk County Legislature approved in June, states any vessel on Suffolk County waterways used to teach people 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 must have a cage or encasement surrounding the propeller “to ensure the safety of students and to protect against accidental injury.”

Costs for installing the propeller guards are estimated to start around $100, county officials said.

Fines for first-time violators range between $250 and $500 and then climb to $750 to $1,500 for subsequent offenses.

Ian Milligan, commodore of the Greater Huntington Council of Yacht and Boating Clubs — which represents more than 4,000 recreational boating families in Huntington — said his club fully supported the law, adding his members had volunteered to install such propeller guards themselves. Some pending amendments are in the works, Milligan said, that would address previous concerns from club members, such as clarifying what kinds of vessels and motors fell under this new law.

Describing the local boating community as “tight-knit” and “like a family,” Milligan said they hoped the law would inspire similar legislation on the state level. “It’s unfortunate that this accident happened, but we’re hoping this law will help to encourage others to take these safety precautions...so they can have the benefit of this lesson without having to go through a tragedy,” Milligan said.

As a tribute to Ryan, the crowd of several dozen people gathered on the sandy shores of the club overlooking Northport Bay and placed white flowers into the waters.

“There is no doubt as I sign this legislation in my mind that Ryan’s Law will save lives, and that is an incredible legacy for this young man and for his family,” Bellone said during the signing ceremony.

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