Boating Advocates Still Pushing For Strong Safety Laws

Congressman Steve Israel, pictured embracing Huntington’s Lisa Gaines last summer, is one of several lawmakers with pending boating-safety legislation.

Congressman Steve Israel, pictured embracing Huntington’s Lisa Gaines last summer, is one of several lawmakers with pending boating-safety legislation.

More than two and a half years after a boating disaster in Oyster Bay killed three children, Huntington-area boating safety advocates said they are frustrated that a flurry of proposals, press conferences and pledges by state and federal officials yielded little by way meaningful new legislation.

Soon after the disaster, in August 2012, State Senator Carl Marcellino (R-Syosset) held a public hearing in Oyster Bay. Last summer former Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice (D-Garden City), now a U.S. congresswoman, backed an eight-pronged approach which would set a federal mandate requiring capacity standards and plates for all vessels, regardless of size; mandatory boating safety certificates; parity between DWI and BWI penalties, and for the state DMV to link boating and driver’s licenses, and treating violations in either realm as one and the same.

Rice also pushed for parity between boating safety standards for personal watercraft operators and power boats, and championed great collaboration between the U.S. Coast Guard, law enforcement and rescue agencies in personnel and equipment.

Much of that platform reflected similar legislation introduced by U.S. Senator Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Congressman Steve Israel (D-Huntington), Rice said during the July 2014 press conference.

The impetus for the new proposals in recent years was the July 4, 2012 sinking of the Kandi Won in Oyster Bay Harbor. Three children – Victoria Gaines, nearly 7; Harlie Treanor, 11, and David Aureliano, 12 – died that day. A July 3, 2013 report on the sinking of the Kandi Won by the Nassau County DA’s office determined the 34-foot cabin cruiser was “overloaded” with 27 passengers and was capsized by a 90-degree “beam wake” wave on its return to Huntington Harbor

But, the results thus far, boating advocates said, have been disappointing to say the least.

“We’ve been invited to several press conferences and hearings that have highlighted the need for investigation into boating safety and therefore, more comprehensive safe boating laws,” Jackie Martin, commodore of the Greater Huntington Council of Yacht and Boating Clubs, said last week. “I’ve yet to see any legitimate follow-up on any of these hearings by any of these people on what they’ve proposed at theses press conferences.”

The office of Congressman Israel, whose BOATS (Boating Occupancy and Teaching Safety) Act would provide grants to fund boating safety classes and mandate capacity limits for vessels 45 feet and smaller, said the legislation, which was introduced May 9, 2014, is being prepped for re-introduction in this Congress. A spokesman blamed Congressional gridlock for the bill’s initial demise.

In the meantime, what has been adopted at the state level is inadequate, advocates said. Legislation signed into law Sept. 27, 2013 requires all boaters born May 1, 1996 or later to hold a boating safety certificate, obtained by taking a state-approved, eight-hour safety course, in order to operate authorized motorized vessels in the state’s waters. In addition to traditional in-person courses, the legislation directs the state to explore developing “appropriate and effective” online boating safety courses.

“It’s doing nothing for the new boater who is age 45 can afford a large boat, can buy it from the dealer and stick the key in the ignition,” Martin said.

Their best chance at tightening those rules may be through state legislation. Assemblyman Andrew Raia (R-East Northport) introduced legislation, co-written with the Boating Council, that would amend the state law to phase in mandatory boating licenses over a six-year span.

But, life in the Assembly Republican super-minority means finding a Democratic leader to carry legislation. Raia found that in Assemblyman Charles Lavine (D-Glen Cove), who reintroduced the bill, Assembly Bill A1192, this session.

“I have great confidence this will become law. It’s the right thing to do, and sadly, it took that horrible accident in Oyster Bay to focus attention on this national problem,” Lavine said Monday.

Aides said the bill, which was filed with the Tourism, Arts, Parks and Sports Development committee, is unlikely to be considered until this spring.

“It’s something we’re going to push ahead on,” Raia said.

In the meantime, Martin said the Town of Huntington has been a fine partner in promoting boating safety by providing free boating safety courses and supporting the council’s annual Safe Boating Week programming. Enforcement on the water by harbormasters has been “excellent,” Martin said, and town board members have written to Governor Andrew Cuomo in support of more stringent safety laws.

“They really can’t do more with what’s in existence,” she said.

Raia said he is also co-sponsoring a proposal that would allow the DMV to go after a boater’s driver’s license if they fail to respond to a boating summons.

“Driving is not a right – it’s a privilege. It’s the same thing with boating,” he said.

Time is of the essence, according to Martin – with the economy improving, so too are boat sales, and marinas are filling up – possibly with boaters who don’t have any safety training.

“It’s very timely that we start to move again on this,” she said.