News

Suffolk County Lawmakers Want Boat Operators To Take Safety Course Or Face Fine

$250 Up To $1,000 Fines, Plus Jail Time, Proposed Under Stiff BWI Law
A boat that capsized on July 4, killing three children, is seen being lifted from the Long Island Sound on Wednesday, July 11, 2012. (credit: Sophia Hall/WCBS 880)

A boat that capsized on July 4, killing three children, is seen being lifted from the Long Island Sound on Wednesday, July 11, 2012. (credit: Sophia Hall/WCBS 880)

OYSTER BAY, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — When it comes to boating safety in the state of New York, critics claim the rules are lax and out of date.

But changes could soon be coming.

A month has passed since the nightmare on Oyster Bay following the Fourth of July fireworks display. Three children drowned. Their devastated families have been unable to recover from a boating tragedy experts call “preventable.”

WCBS 880’s Mike Xirinachs reports

At their homes Monday, grieving parents told CBS 2’s Jennifer McLogan pushing for change is what’s keeping them going.

“A day on the water should be a pleasure, not one that ends in tragedy. But too often that is what happens,” Suffolk County Legislator Steve Stern said. “How many more tragedies must we have in our community? How many more families will be devastated and when is enough, enough?”

Suffolk County is now making strides toward becoming the first in the state to require all boaters operating a vessel on waterways to complete an approved boating safety course. The bill will be introduced Tuesday, lawmakers said.

“It’s a day I will never forget. I cry every night. I can’t understand why this had to happen,” boating victim Gina Lieneck said.

Lieneck and her husband were critically injured. Far worse, the life of their 11-year-old daughter Brianna was snatched away when an allegedly reckless speeding and unlicensed drunk boater broad-sided their pleasure craft near the Bay Shore Marina.

The Lienecks were among victims, boating instructors and licensed captains gathered Monday to support toughening laws.

Suffolk’s new proposal would make boating safety courses mandatory and pending state legislation in Albany would make it a felony to drive a boat drunk with children on board, loss of boating and driver’s licenses and a new charge of aggravated BWI, if the boat pilot’s blood-alcohol level is .18 or higher.

“It’s $40-$55 for the materials and the teaching is free. Teaching is free, a full-day course,” Coast Guard auxiliary boating instructor Joseph Genovese said.

Those helping to investigate the sinking of the “Kandi Won” said overcrowding may have been prevented and surrounding boats wouldn’t have peeled off leaving big wakes if all boaters knew the rules of the water.

New York requires safety courses only for boaters younger than 18, and jet skiers. New Jersey and Connecticut require classes for all boaters. New York State boating law hearings will begin Wednesday.

The bill pending in Albany would also link driving, boating and snowmobiling, “under-the-influence” offenses, so violators could be charged as repeat offenders.

First-time offenders would face a fine of $250. The second offense would carry a fine of $500, and a third offense would carry a $1,000 fine and up to a year in jail. Officials hope to have the new boating safety law in effect by next summer, WCBS 880’s Mike Xirinachs reported.

According to the U.S. Coast Guard, of the nearly 6,000 boat operators involved in accidents around the country last year, almost half had no boater safety education.

Please offer your thoughts in the comments section below …