Suffolk County’s newest boating safety law aims to prevent future tragedies like the one that claimed the life of a Greenlawn boy last summer.
Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) signed legislation July 28 at Centerport Yacht Club named Ryan’s Law that will require all boats used for instructing minors to be equipped with propeller guards. After the tragic death of their 12-year-old son, Ryan, Greenlawn resident Kellie Weiss and her husband, Kevin, led the charge calling for a law change.
“We stand here forever heartbroken,” Weiss said. “Although this can’t bring Ryan back to us today, we hope that we have the opportunity to protect someone else, some other child out there.”
Ryan died July 18, 2017, when he was taking part in a boating lesson at Centerport Yacht Club where the vessel was intentionally capsized in a controlled manner. An 18-year-old instructor operating a small Zodiac inflatable boat pulled him from the water and onto the inflatable raft. As the instructor started to move the boat forward, Ryan again fell into the water and became entangled in the propeller.
“This is Ryan’s happy place,” Weiss said, wiping away tears. “I know in my heart he did what he loved to do.”
Under the new law, anyone who owns a boat used for instructional lessons that is registered in Suffolk or operates in county waters must install a propeller guard, a metal cage that surrounds the propeller of a motorized boat. The legislation was unanimously co-sponsored and then approved by all 18 members of the Suffolk County Legislature in June.
“This is a family that has really had to bind together over the last year,” Suffolk Legislator William “Doc” Spencer (D-Centerport) said, crediting the Weiss’ advocacy in getting the legislation passed. “What they have done is nothing short of incredible, to take something that is so deep and painful, and turn it into something positive.”
The law will take effect in approximately 90 days, giving boat owners an opportunity to modify their watercrafts as necessary. Those caught operating an instructional boat without a propeller guard will be fined between $250 and $500 for first offenses and from $750 to $1,500 for subsequent violations.
Erik Rosanes, commodore of the Centerport Yacht Club, said his club is onboard with the legislation.
“As we continue in our club’s mission to encourage the sport of yachting and educate the next generation of sailors, we look forward to promoting any measures that may improve the safety of our children in and on the water,” Rosanes said.
The Weiss family and members of the yacht club were joined by New York State, Suffolk and Town of Huntington elected officials in placing white daisies into the waters of Northport Harbor in memory of Ryan. Flowers were also placed on a rock marked with his initials.
Kellie Weiss said she is hopeful that one day propeller guards will become mandatory under New York State law.
“We urge every parent who has a child, teen or young adult who is going to be operating a boat or wave runner,” she said. “Think about installing a prop guard to protect your kid. No one wants to get the phone call we got a year ago.”