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Brianna’s Law passes in state Senate

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The state Senate Democratic Majority passed legislation on May 16 that it hopes will help prevent boating tragedies on New York waterways. Senator John Brooks, a Democrat from Seaford, sponsored the bill.

The bill, known as Brianna’s Law, requires that boaters attend in-person boater safety courses and pass exams before being permitted to operate mechanically propelled vessels on navigable waters.

Brianna’s Law was referred to the state Assembly’s Tourism, Parks, Arts and Sports Development Committee on Feb. 5 and on Feb. 21 was sent to the Codes Committee where it is now.

Bills are referred to the Codes Committee when rules and regulations are involved, said Assemblyman Charles Lavine, a Democrat from Glen Cove, who is a member of the committee. Bills are reviewed and analyzed there by counsel. “The challenge here is that there are only 13 legislative days left,” said Lavine, who co-sponsored the bill. “My hope is that the bill will go to the floor and be voted on.”

Levine said that a similar bill was considered three years ago but that it didn’t include directives on how it would be implemented. Additionally, it was not required that all boaters participate, with those born prior to 1996 exempt.

Brianna’s Law is named after 11-year-old, Brianna Lieneck, from Deer Park, who was killed in a boating accident on August 17, 2005. The accident killed Brianna and critically injured her parents in a collision with another boat on the Great South Bay just east of the Robert Moses Bridge.

David Waldo, the executive director of the WaterFront Center, a non-profit community marine education and sailing center in Oyster Bay, said he supports the potential legislation. The center has been hosting hands-on courses for beginners and accelerated programs for more experienced boaters for the past 10 years.

Operating a powerboat is not very different than driving a vehicle, he said, except that it is easier to practice driving a car since boating is seasonal. “The knowledge you gain in the classroom should be brought onto the water, including close quarter maneuvers,” Waldo said. “Just because you’ve been driving a powerboat for years doesn’t mean you know what you are doing.”

State Assemblyman Michael Montesano, a Republican from Glen Head, also co-sponsored Brianna’s Law. “When the bill came up before the boating industry pushed back,” he said, “concerned that if people were required to go take classes and get a license that the industry would sell less [boats]. The boating industry were the biggest lobbyists against the bill before.”

But there haven’t been any complaints on the bill’s passage this time around, he said. “In light of several accidents I think they realize it has to be done,” Montesano said. “This is long overdue. Boating has become too careless.”

People who aren’t knowledgeable about boating regulations and operations hurt others, he added.

Larry Weiss, of Plainview, is a certified boating safety course instructor. “We try to teach common sense,” he said. “People get nuts on the water and there is a dramatic lack of understanding and care by some of them.”

It wouldn’t bother him, Weiss said, to be required to take a course himself. “It’s more about ego for those that are experienced who are opposed to taking the course,” he said.

As for the boating industry’s objection to boating safety class requirements, Weiss said he understands, though he doesn’t approve. “It’s easier to sell boats without the requirements,” he said. “But in order to operate a motor vehicle you have to take written and road tests and get a permit to operate it. With boats, which are way more complicated than a vehicle, all you need is a key.”

For information on Oyster Bay Sail and Power Squadron boating safety courses, call (516) 622-1356 or go to www.boatoysterbay.org. Weiss recommends boaters also take the vessel safety exam. The organization does free boat inspections.