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Steve Israel bill would provide federal funds for boating safety classes

Rep. Steve Israel hosts a boating safety roundtable

Rep. Steve Israel hosts a boating safety roundtable on ways to make the water safer. (Aug. 13, 2013) Credit: Newsday / Audrey C. Tiernan

Rep. Steve Israel told boating experts Tuesday that he will introduce a bill in Congress to provide funding for states to offer safety classes.

The Huntington Democrat told the representatives of the Coast Guard and other enforcement agencies and boating groups at a meeting in Bayville Village Hall that "it would be almost impossible" to get Congress to pass a bill requiring all boaters to take a safety class -- legislation Suffolk County passed last year and state lawmakers passed this year. The state bill awaits action by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.

But Israel said legislation to create a fund for states to provide courses could be passed if it specifies other cuts in the federal budget to offset the allocation.

Israel scheduled the meeting, which he said would be the first of the series on Long Island -- in light of increasing concerns about unsafe boaters following the July 4, 2012, sinking of the cabin cruiser Kandi Won after a fireworks display in Oyster Bay that resulted in the drowning of three children onboard. Two of their mothers, Joy Treanor and Lisa Gaines, attended.

Larry Weiss, spokesman for the U.S. Power Squadrons boating safety organization on Long Island, said mandatory safety courses were a "bare minimum" to make the water safer and that additional training was necessary. He urged Israel to push for a federal education requirement, saying that each state setting its own standard creates confusion on bodies of water such as Long Island Sound, where Connecticut boaters are required to take a class while New Yorkers are not.

Harry Acker, the Huntington senior harbormaster, called the state bill that would only require boaters 18 and under to take courses initially "very disappointing."

If Cuomo signs the current bill, Acker and others said they are working to pass a tougher version next year.

"There's always going to be bad apples," said Freeport marina owner Chris Squieri, president of the Empire State Marine Trades Association, an industry group. He said the state legislation that would require powerboat operators to take a class "will fix nothing" because "almost 50 percent of the fatalities every year come on rowboats, canoes and kayaks and other nonregistered vessels in New York State" whose owners would not have to take a course.

Acker also asked Israel in the wake of the 2012 accident to push the Coast Guard to set capacity limits for powerboats like the 34-foot Kandi Won, which had 27 people aboard, and others larger than the current 20-foot threshold set by the government.

Treanor argued that capacity limits would be a waste of time because "idiots" would just ignore them.

But Acker said the limits would give law-enforcement officials a tool to deal with overcrowding.

Treanor also advocated that safety inspections of boats be mandatory rather than voluntary.

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