New Safety Certificate Required

County law in response to fatal accidents

    Suffolk County Executive Steven Bellone last week signed into a law a requirement that all recreational boaters living in Suffolk obtain a state safe-boating certificate. The law was passed unanimously by the County Legislature after a spate of fatal boating accidents in recent years, including the capsizing of an overloaded boat in July that killed three children.
    The law will require that recreational boaters attend safe-boating classes, although the venues for such classes and the curriculum were not spelled out. The current state boating instruction offered by the U.S. Power Squadron and Coast Guard Auxiliary is an eight-hour course that covers basic seamanship and rules of the road. Sailors will be exempt from the law.
    On the East End, the job of enforcing the new law will fall to the marine police of the five towns. “It’s long overdue,” Ed Michels, East Hampton’s senior harbormaster, said on Tuesday. “Now if we stop a boat, the first thing we’ll ask for is the certificate. I can’t argue with the safety aspect, but I haven’t seen the specifics of how the courses will be given.”
    As a federal agency, the Coast Guard will not be enforcing the law, according to Senior Chief Petty Officer Jason Walter of the Montauk station.
    County Legislator Jay Schneiderman said the bill had the support of the Legislature, given the recent accidents. “A lot of capable boaters might resent going to any kind of class, but there’s no fee. I’m trying to amend the bill to give more power to the bay constables so they can certify people they know are seasoned boaters through personal experience,” Mr. Schneiderman said.
    “I think we’re on the right track, but I don’t want to punish people who are experienced boaters. There are national standards for boating safety. Implementation is the hard part,” Mr. Schneiderman said, an opinion shared by Brian Kemp, New York’s boating law administrator. Mr. Kemp said he had received a number of calls from people wondering if the current eight-hour course was likely to be abbreviated.
    “I’m looking into ways to make the classes accessible,” Mr. Schneiderman said, “maybe it could be done online,” an idea that Mr. Michels did not like.
    “They should go to a class like the Power Squadron gives,” Mr. Michels said.
    The state has offered safe-boating courses and exams for the past 54 years, but they are not required. Other states permit online courses and exams, but in New York, Web sites like Boaterexam.com can be used only as study guides.
    The law would eempt boat renters, who in most instances are required to view a safety video before getting the keys. Henry Uihlein of Uihlein’s Marina and Boat Rental in Montauk said the customers who rent Jet Skis from him must watch a 20-minute video, also available to boat renters. “If people don’t feel comfortable, we provide a captain, an experienced boater, at no cost. Next year I’m going to put GPS equipment on the boats so I can monitor them,” Mr. Uihlein said.
    Since 1998, state law has required that kids ages 10 to 18 have a safe-boating certificate obtained by attending a boating safety course and passing an exam in order to drive a personal watercraft such as a Jet Ski.
    The new law does not pertain to commercial fishermen or other commercial boaters. Nor does it apply to boaters coming from outside Suffolk County, as is the case with the many fishermen who descend on Montauk this time of year for the fall run of striped bass.
    The mandatory education law will go into effect next year — not a lot of time to figure out how and where classes will be held, or whether the current boating courses will be altered, Mr. Michels said.