October 6, 2013

Editorial: Boater-safety law goes too far


---- — New York state is a little over-zealous in making anyone who wants to operate a motor boat pass an eight-hour safety course.

Boating safety is largely a matter of common sense. Veteran boaters aren’t going to profit much from enforced attendance at eight hours worth of sessions to remind them to keep their mind on what they’re doing.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has signed new legislation that would require the operators of all powered boats to pass an eight-hour safety course. The law takes effect May 1, 2014, and comes in the aftermath of fatal boating accidents last year on Long Island and upstate.

The law will be put into effect over a period of years. It will initially cover anyone 18 or younger, while older boaters would be exempt. First-time violators would face fines of $100 to $250.

Certificates can be obtained and the safety course completed with the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historical Preservation, U.S. Power Squadrons or the U.S. Coast Guard.

It remains to be seen whether all of the thousands of boaters who must take a course and all the certificates that will have to be issued can be distributed before the start of next boating season or the one after that, but that responsibility will fall to boaters — many of whom would probably be qualified to teach such a curriculum.

Previous state law required only operators of a personal watercraft to have a boating-safety certificate, or be accompanied by someone older than 18 years who is the holder of a safety certificate.

Now, the law presumes that even someone older than 18 is unqualified to drive a boat unless the safety course is completed.

In many areas, we would applaud the state taking steps to enhance the public safety of an endeavor. But, in the case of driving a boat, we wonder why eight hours of class is needed to teach adults — the vast majority of whom are responsible operators — how to drive a boat.

The lakes on which most boaters operate offer a much more expansive view of oncoming of any traffic than cars experience on a road.

We acknowledge the unspeakable tragedies that prompted the legislation. We also acknowledge that 21 other states have laws that mirror New York’s, to one extent or another.

But one of the accidents, off Long Island, occurred during a fireworks display. Three children drowned because the driver of a cabin cruiser was watching the fireworks. Does anyone need a safety course to realize that, when driving a boat, staring at fireworks rather than where you are going is unwise and potentially dangerous?

We are all for safety. It’s just hard to imagine, say, a boater in his 50s who has been cruising the waters for the past 30 years needing an eight-hour set of instructions to know how to drive safely.

Give courses to young, inexperienced boaters, or those who have shown disregard for rules of the water. But a blanket requirement for every boater seems intrusive and unnecessary.