Mandated Boating Safety Course Becomes Law

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone signs bill Thursday that will require boat operators to take a course or face fines.

Seated between two mothers who lost children in boating accidents, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone signed a bill Thursday afternoon that will require boat operators in the county to complete a safety course.

The law will take effect one year after it is filed with the state so boaters will essentially have until the start of the 2014 boating season to take a course, which will be available through several organizations, including the U.S. Coast Guard.

"This is common sense legislation that many will say is long overdue," the bill's sponsor, Legis. Steve Stern, D-Dix Hills, said during a press conference before the bill's signing on the water's edge at Timber Point Country Club in Great River. "I know that it will prevent tragedies in the future." 

The bill was signed following a deadly summer on Long Island's waterways. Lisa Gaines, whose 7-year-old daughter Victoria drowned along with two other children in July when the powerboat they were riding in capsized in the waters off Oyster Bay, sat next to Bellone as he inked Suffolk's Safer Waterways Act. 

"We have reached this point unfortunately because of the tragedies that have occurred on our waterways," Bellone said before he signed what he called "historic boating safety legislation," the first of its kind in the state. 

"For too long, we have assumed and believed that somehow our waterways are these safe regions unlike roads or operating a motor vehicle," he said. 

According to the Coast Guard, 70 percent of boating accidents are caused by operator errors. About half of the states in the country currently have some form of a boater education law. In New York, only those operating personal watercrafts have to take a class. Boat operators 18 and older, however, currently face no such restrictions. 

Gaines said she wanted Suffolk's law in place before the next boating season, but with an estimated 75,000-100,000 boaters now required to take a course, Stern said it would be a "tremendous challenge" to get all of those boaters safety course certificates withing a year. 

Stern, however, said he believed there were enough resources–with several organizations yet to be identified that can offer courses–to get the training done before the weather warms up in 2014. Online courses are a possibility if they meet certain standards, Stern said. 

County officials said they hoped the bill's signing would spur other municipalities, including the state, to act as the requirements in the bill only apply to Suffolk County residents and not those who may venture into local waters from out of the area. 

State Sen. Charles Fuschillo, R-Merrick, has introduced similar legislation at the state level calling for mandated safety courses, as well as stiffer penalties for boating under the influence. Those bills are currently in committee and if passed next year when the Senate is back in session, the safety course law would then be phased in over two years. 

Once Suffolk's law is in effect, boat operators who cannot produce a safety course certificate will face a fine of up to $250 for a first offense and up to a $1,000 fine and a year in prison upon a third offense. 

"My family and I have waited seven years for laws such as this to go into place and we cannot be more thrilled," said Gina Lieneck, whose 11-year-old daughter Brianna was killed in a boat crash in the Great South Bay in 2005. 

"After our daughter was tragically taken from us, it opened my eyes to all of the changes that needed to be made to make the waterways safer," said Lieneck, of Deer Park. "Today is the first step in ensuring the safety of all boaters on the water."

PPG February 20, 2013 at 07:42 PM
Yes, don't grade papers with red ink because it hurts feelings, the new grade is 1 to 4 because the true percentage grade will hurt feelings, I crashed my car but it was the car manufacturers fault, I fell off the ladder but it was the ladder manufacturers fault. All the lefties looking for someone to blame. So now be prepared for all the lawsuits against the county because the boater course will not teach them every stupid thing not to do and it will be the county's fault. Have you read all the warnings in your car manual these days? The friggin thing is 500 pages of warnings because people are stupid and are awarded millions of dollars by dummies. Duh....the manual didn't say I couldn't put the hot cigarette lighter in my eye. Duh....the manual didn't say I couldn't drive on thin ice
John K Massaro February 20, 2013 at 07:44 PM
Furthermore, how would you differentiate (sp?) between a safe & responsible boater & one without personal responsibility if there was no way to tell the difference? It's not always a "left wing"/"right wing" political thing as you so clearly want it to be. Sometimes it has to do with public safety & not anything to do with your selfish party affiliation...
20+ Year Resident of Huntington February 20, 2013 at 08:10 PM
John and Tom, For clarity sake, I am a Independent, I don't like either party....I don't like government in my daily life. I understand the need for it, I agree with the big stuff but this continual process of intruding in our lives has got to stop. To your point on knowing a safe boater from a non safe one....a stupid piece of paper does not make you safe.....practice of principals on how to operate do....PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY.....and again, I can take the stupid test and pass no problem so I will because the though of giving this incompetent county government more money for no services make me sick....this will stop accidents let alone STUPID PEOPLE from acting....those kids were dead the moment they left the dock...it makes me sad as i have a child that age, the lost opportunity, the lost potential, very sad....but again nothing on the piece of paper would stop a idiot for putting 27 people on that boat unless they follow their own code of PERSONAL RESPONISILITY.... And Tom, as far as the argument of a woman's right to chose, I could care less and I don't think government should be involved at all but then don't use my money(Taxes to pay for it). Can't have it both ways, it you don't want government in the process don't take the money....or keep your legs shut....again PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY.....see...its not just a theme is a way of being....
PPG February 20, 2013 at 08:36 PM
It all has to do with POLICING. Let the coast guard, constables, police marine units enforce the current laws and safety laws. Give the fines to the lawbreakers and those who ignore safety laws and stop making new useless laws for those who don't break the existing ones.
Tom Gillen February 20, 2013 at 08:58 PM
No I hear you. I think we pretty much agree. Unfortunately it's the idiots out there who don't take personal responsibility have driven this. Actually it's funny....when I bought my boat and took the course, I did not know it was 'optional'. I would have taken it anyway, but I just thought it was natural that I would need some sort of certification before I got behind the wheel of my boat. I've said this a couple of times but I don't mind repeating it.....my opinion based on my personal experience is that if the operator of that vessel had taken the course, it may have made him take what he was doing a bit more seriously rather than just winging it and piling everyone into the boat and heading out. Taking the course created a sense of greater responsibility on my part (again, just my humble opinion). In my eyes, the tragedies last year should be separate and distinct from the issue of having to take a boater's safety course. It just so happened that those tragedies brought the issue of boating safety to the foreground and I think that's a good thing.
PPG February 20, 2013 at 09:02 PM
Had they guy who had the 27 people on his boat already taken the safety course?
Tom Gillen February 20, 2013 at 09:22 PM
No. I think that is why the issue of the safety course was talked about even more after this tragedy.
Jessica Horvath February 20, 2013 at 09:28 PM
my parents made me and my siblings take this course and exam when we were children and we got our boating license and that was smart of them because we were kids and were operating boats at 10 years old. I STILL remember all of the rules of the water and I really feel like if you are going to need a license to operate a car, you need one to operate a boat. The fact is this is a town FULL of boaters. So many have boats. Everyone needs to be educated. Yes, it wont necessarily stop EVERYONE from breaking the law just as having a drivers license doesnt stop everyone, but it will help. It shouldnt be a problem. 8 hours out of your day just go get the license. It could save someones life. What we really need is more policing of the waterways.
John Gruber February 20, 2013 at 10:23 PM
Yes PPG let the police deal with the accidents instead of trying to prevent them...
PatP. February 21, 2013 at 12:44 PM
You can not teach stupid people anything, be it driving, boating or even walking while ,texting or talking on a cell phone....
PPG February 21, 2013 at 05:01 PM
Yeah...rather than a safety course they should give you an IQ test and decide what they will allow you to do in life from there
John Gruber February 21, 2013 at 05:20 PM
Theres a big difference between "stupid" and "uninformed". The fact you expect someone to take control of a motor vehicle who is responsible for the lives of others without a minimum safety class is stupid. Not knowing how to tie a proper knot, ocean depths, minimum number of life jackets necessary, and radio frequencies for help is being uninformed
PatP. February 21, 2013 at 05:40 PM
PPG Get your head out of the sand, maybe you just hang around to many "uninformed" and people an IQ the same as their shoe size....
tm February 21, 2013 at 05:49 PM
I fail to understand the problem with requiring boaters to take and pass a simple test. To my knowledge, the test our course is not much different from the test required before anyone can obtain a license to drive a car. Can someone please explain what the objection to this is?
A. Hamilton February 21, 2013 at 06:19 PM
Gvmt should just ban all boating. It is apparently unsafe and their is really no need for it other than for just mere pleasure. Perhaps Rowboats and foot powered paddle boats can be the exception. Just like you dont NEED a 30 round gun magazine, you dont NEED to go 60MPH on the water in a 60ft boat.
K. February 21, 2013 at 06:23 PM
I don't own a boat yet, but does anyone know if boat-owners get some type of Insurance discount for taking a Boating Safety class as car-owners get for defensive Driving classes?
John Gruber February 21, 2013 at 06:23 PM
you also don't NEED a sports car, you don't NEED that pool where someone could drown, you don't NEED to fly on planes, so I guess the government should just ban everything that could potentially be dangerous
monkey lewis February 22, 2013 at 04:40 AM
Tom Gillen is an obvious goverment shill,google cass sunstein nudge
monkey lewis February 22, 2013 at 04:41 AM
Tom Gillen=cognitive infiltration
Vito February 22, 2013 at 05:40 AM
You are comparing apples to oranges. It was never legal in any of our lifetimes to drive a car without a license. A more appropriate analogy would be if it was determined that the best way to address the fact people talk on the phone or text while driving would be to offer a mandatory course on phone and driver safety, Would you welcome this mandated course even though you always exhibited the good sense to NOT engage in such behavior?
Vito February 22, 2013 at 06:09 AM
I have no idea what you mean. There are rules regarding controlling your car as there are laws on the book about negligent boat operation. People can be fined for improper or unsafe operation of a boat. Have you ever seen it happen? I have not. Instead of addressing this failure to enforce rules and laws already on the book, we make or contemplate brand new laws. Perhaps this makes people feel good, but ultimately the failure to enforce these new rules will accomplish nothing.
Tom Gillen February 22, 2013 at 01:27 PM
I wouldn't need to because I've already taken the course while it was OPTIONAL. There's a difference between talking the talk and walking the walk. Sounds like you prefer the former...I prefer to lead by example.
Tom Gillen February 22, 2013 at 01:40 PM
but sure, I'd absolutely support it if made me and everyone else on the road safer. Even if it changes one person it's worth it
Art February 22, 2013 at 02:03 PM
The "nuts" are not going to be educated or influenced by legislation. Increase enforcement & penalties including jail time......
Hay Farmer February 22, 2013 at 03:06 PM
Here's a concept: Teach your children safe boating and courtesy while on the water with others and laws like this wouldn't be necessary. The same people complaining are nothing more than the grown up rascals of yesteryear whose kids are the problems on the waters today. Result: New legislation that will be enforced at the inconvenience of every boater. I say "Bravo to the Suffolk Country Legislature!". This should be a national law.
tm February 22, 2013 at 04:08 PM
No one has really anwered my question about why this should be treated different than driving with regards for the need to simply pass a basic safety and competance test. it seems fairly simple and straightforward. am i missing something?
John Gruber February 22, 2013 at 04:55 PM
Because people are incompetent and lazy and generally don't like being told what to do, even if it's for their own safety and that of others. Common sense would tell you that you shouldn't operate a motor vehicle with people's lives at risk without some sort of minimal threshold for safety requirements
John Gruber February 22, 2013 at 04:56 PM
so now someone who wants to make sure there are less morons out there not having a clue as to what they're doing is a "government shill"?. Interesting...
Steve April 05, 2013 at 09:54 PM
Simply another example of cravin politicians looking to pat themselves on the back and say "see look what I did". This bill is meaningless, and while it sounds nice and makes everyone feel like they did something, the tragedy that inspired this foolish legislation would not have been avoided had the operator of the boat taken this course. There are so few boating accients with injuries, especially if jet skis are not counted in the equation, that requiring boaters to spend six hours in a classroom to operate a boats which they've already been doing most of their lives is a colossal waste and more Nanny Statism.
Andrew May 09, 2013 at 11:51 PM
Stupid, Stupid, Stupid. a classroom learning experience will never produce safe boaters. A classroom experience with practical operational experience might be better but only if there was significant oversight of the testing process. Boats are arguably more difficult to operate than cars, and cars require a drivers test to be certified. 1) how many incompetent drivers do you see every day? 2)how does this truly make anyone safer?


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