Long Island boating safety advocates push for reforms

Long Island boating safety advocates push for reforms

A call for legislative action on eve of boating safety week

Local safe boating advocates don’t want proposed state and federal laws improving safety on the water to lose steam. File photo by Rachel Shapiro

Huntington boating safety advocates are calling for new wind in the sails of languishing state and federal measures aimed at making recreational boating safer.

Jackie Martin, commodore of the Greater Huntington Council of Yacht & Boating Clubs, said she wants to see some action on two proposed laws, one state and one federal, that would attack the issue of boating safety from multiple fronts, including increasing boating safety education state and nationwide; and mandating that boat manufacturers create and affix plates publicizing the maximum passenger capacities for vessels shorter than 45 feet and greater than 20 feet.

“Nothing’s been done on this,” Martin said in a phone interview on Friday. “I can also say I’m disappointed.”

The commodore voiced her frustrations just a few days before the launch of the third annual Huntington Safe Boating Week, an event filled with programs highlighting the significance of taking safety precautions and behaving sensibly on the water. The week is a partnership between GHCYBC, town, U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary and the Neptune Sail and Power Squadron, which provides boating education classes and seminars.

It’s been a year since either of the bills made any waves. The bills have been referred to committees, according to their latest status updates in the State Assembly and the Library of Congress online databases.

The laws were prompted in part by the deaths of three children in Oyster Bay almost three years ago: Victoria Gaines, 7, Harlie Treanor, 11, and David Aureliano, 12, died when the boat they were on capsized on its way back to shore after a July 4 fireworks show. The 34-foot cabin cruiser was carrying 27 people at the time.

If approved, the New York State legislation would require all boaters in the state’s tidewaters to obtain boating certification issued by either the commissioner, the U.S. Power Squadrons or the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, phasing in the requirements for various age groups by 2020. It would prohibit individuals under the age of 14 to operate a boating vessel, and would eliminate the use of online classes to obtain boating certification, “due to the ineffective educational requirements of said classes,” according to the legislation.

Stephanie Quarles, vice commodore of GHCYBC, said a swift requirement for older boaters to conform to the proposed boating certification standards is key, because many accidents involve older boaters.

“Once you’re a boater, there’s so much to it and it can be dangerous if you’re not careful,” she said. “And it can be an awful lot of fun if you’re in a safe environment.”

Asked why there’s been no movement on the state bill, Assemblyman Andy Raia (R-East Northport), a co-sponsor, called the situation “frustrating,” and said that Albany can be “a slow process.” Raia added that there’s been some talk within the state’s parks department about the difficulty of enforcing the proposed law, as it would create two separate boating certification requirements — one for tidewater and another for freshwater.

He also said the bill doesn’t have a New York State Senate sponsor.

“Things don’t necessarily move until there is a Senate sponsor,” he said.

However, the bill has not been forgotten, Raia reassured.

“It’s not dead,” he said. “It’s something that we are talking about – particularly now that the boating season is upon us. The basic problem is nothing in Albany is moving as fast as things should be, even though it makes perfectly clear sense.”

Over on the federal level, U.S. Rep. Steve Israel (D-Huntington) unveiled legislation last year called the Boating Occupancy and Teaching Safety Act. As of May 20, 2014, the law was in a subcommittee.

Under the bill, states would be required to spend a share of federal funding it already receives under the recreational boating safety program.

Israel’s bill would also require boat manufacturers — as of January 2016 — install a “capacity plate” on boats between 20 and 45 feet in length that list the maximum number of passengers and maximum gross weight it can carry. Federal law already requires this information for boats shorter than 20 feet long, so the bill would expand the regulation.

Caitlin Girouard, communications director for Israel, said the House of Representatives speaker never brought the legislation to the floor for a vote in the last Congress, “but the congressman will be reintroducing the legislation and once again pushing for its passage.” According to the Library of Congress’s database, the bill has no co-sponsors.

Huntington Safe Boating Week starts this Saturday and runs to Friday, May 22. For more information on events go to www.huntingtonsafeboatingweek.com.

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