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State will require boating safety course for all motorboat owners

ALBANY – Owners of motorized boats – from row boats with small outboards to large cabin cruisers – will be required under a new deal at the state Capitol to take a boating safety course no matter how many years they’ve been on the water.

The measure seeks to push boaters in their mid-20s and older to take a certified safety class – which can be done online in a couple hours or in person over the course of several or more hours. Costs can start at $10 rise to $30 to $60 in some cases.

“It’s not meant to punish anybody. It’s meant to recognize that we’re having accidents on the water," said Sen. John Brooks, a Long Island Democrat and sponsor of the legislation that passed the Senate on Wednesday.

The long-stalled measure, named for Brianna Lieneck, an 11-year-old girl killed in a boating accident in Long Island’s Great South Bay in 2005, will soon get final passage in the Assembly under a deal Brooks said he has with its sponsor in that house, Assemblywoman Kimberly Jean-Pierre, a Suffolk County Democrat.

Brooks said the Cuomo administration’s parks department also played a key role in the final legislation approved in the Senate Wednesday afternoon.

The law, the lawmaker said in an interview, is not intended to be aimed at people who rent motorboats; currently, companies that rent boats are supposed to review basic safety rules and boat operations with renters.

But Senate Republicans said the bill – unless changed in an amendment process – would apply to people who rent power boats on New York waterways.

“Brooks said on the floor that it does apply to renters. I’m not even sure if he knew what it covered and what it didn’t cover,’’ said Senator Michael Ranzenhofer, an Amherst Republican.

"Someone coming into our state for a vacation will then learn they have to take an an eight-hour course (to rent a boat)?'' Ranzenhofer said after the bill was passed.

As of 2014, anyone born after May 1, 1996, has been required to successfully complete a boater education course – approved by the state – in order to operate a motorboat.

The new legislation removes that date, broadening the requirement to anyone of any age who owns boat of any kind with a motor.

There is a bit of an escape clause for boaters who just refuse to take a safety course: The legislation includes no fines for operating a motorboat without having successfully completed a safety and education class.

“It’s kind of toothless and I’m a little concerned it’s going to give us a false sense of security," Sen. James Tedisco, a Schenectady County Republican, told colleagues on the Senate floor Wednesday.

“People sometimes think if you have a rule you have to be able to smack someone with it and make it hurt. Our real objective is to have safety awareness on the water … You want to believe, in the end, that most people on the water will be responsible," Brooks said.

The senator said older boaters should think of the coursework as a refresher kind of initiative or, perhaps, to learn how to correct mistakes they may have been inadvertently making on waterways for years.

Brooks said if he had his way the operator of any kind of boat would be required to take a safety course. And he said not including boat renters right now in the effort was a bow, in part, to concerns raised by some vacation areas of the state.

“The day will come where we’ll take up the other piece," he said of mandatory education classes for boat renters. “But our target now are the boaters who are out there all the time.’’

The legislation passed the Senate 40-18. One of the no votes came from Ranzenhofer.

“Boater safety is important," Ranzenhofer said during the floor debate. But he said he is concerned the bill makes no distinction between owners of high-speed boats and those who use a rowboat with a small motor. “I would have liked to see a bill with a carve-out that talked about the different types of boating," he said.

Supporters said the measure will end up saving lives by helping boaters better understand the rules of waterways. A document showing the legislation’s intent notes that the majority of boat owners are middle-aged adults who have not been required to take any boating education classes. It also notes that 12% of boating accidents between 2005 and 2015 involved individuals not wearing any personal flotation devices.

“Regardless of whether you have operated a boat in the past, informed vessel operators will result in safer waterways. All individuals driving a boat must know the laws of the waterways,’’ the bill memo states. It adds that there are about 450,000 power boats registered in New York State.

The measure, assuming it is signed into law by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, contains a rolling number of dates between next January and 2025 – depending on when a boater was born – when the safety class requirement would kick in. It also would not apply to a number of professions, including police officers or, as the bill states, members of the U.S. or Canadian coast guards.

The boating safe class legislation was among a number of transportation-related bills that were OK'd by the Senate Wednesday. One bill, previously reported on last week, was final passage of a bill letting schools mount cameras on school buses to capture images of vehicles that fail to stop for a bus loading or unloading students.

Another measure passing the Senate, and not yet taken up in the Assembly, would extend mandatory  safety belt use in motor vehicles to people riding in the back seats.

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