NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Hundreds of thousands of people in the United States have become first-time boat owners during the pandemic, but as they hit the water for Memorial Day weekend, one family has a special reason to encourage safety on the sea.

“When the weather is nice and smooth, yeah, it’s like all smooth sailing, but it’s not always smooth sailing in life. Sometimes it gets rough out there and you gotta be ready for the worst,” recreational sailor Alex Dunayski said.

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“It’s really important for people to learn about the physics and science of the boat and learn how to dock the boat, learn how to go out on open water because who do you bring out on your boat? The people you love, your family, and you want to make sure everybody is safe out there,” said boating safety instructor Captain Rick Mendez.

Gina Lieneck knows the power and the pain of the water all too well.

“Another boat came over the top of my boat and ripped the 1,200-pound canopy off, and it landed on my daughter,” she said. “The next thing I know… I look down and I see my older daughter holding my youngest daughter in her arms, trying to give her CPR … Unaware myself because I was critically injured and my husband was critically injured … I just remember waking up in the hospital, and I was asking for my daughter Brianna and the doctor came in and said, ‘You keep asking about this Brianna. She’s dead.'”

According to the U.S. Coast Guard, about 70% of boating deaths occurred on boats where the operator had no safety instruction.

“They passed Brianna’s Law. That has really pushed forward the effort for everybody to get certified and get their boating safety certificate. In New York state, by 2025, everybody has to have this boating safety certificate,” Mendez said.

READ MORE: Boat Operators Must Now Take Mandatory Boating Safety Course Under Brianna’s Law

Among the main causes of boating crashes are excessive speed and alcohol use.

Police say the boater who killed Brianna had been drinking.

“The law that I’m trying to pass now is if you’re boating while intoxicated and you’re convicted, you will lose your driver’s license,” Lieneck said.

“Before you leave the dock, you want to make sure that you have all of your safety equipment in place. You have your life jackets. Also, you want to make sure you have your safety flares or your daytime distress signals,” Mendez said. “You want to make sure your horn works or have a whistle … You want to make sure your fire extinguishers are in place … You want to make sure you have an anchor.”

“Around the pandemic, everybody ran out and bought a boat, so there was more people on the waterways. A lot of people weren’t getting educated. They were going in, buying a boat and getting on the water. You might know how to drive the boat, but you still don’t know the rules of the waterway,” Lieneck said.

“Drive responsibly, have fun and be safe,” said Captain Bill Rivera, director of the Nautical School.

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Safety experts also say it’s imperative that boaters watch the forecast before heading out on the water.

Jessica Moore