Law would require boating safety training
SARATOGA LAKE It was a beautiful Memorial Day, and boaters flocked to the water for their first trip of the year.
For some of them, it was one of their first trips ever, and they roared off confidently without a single safety course.
They confessed later that they didn’t know what the colors meant on the buoys and said they’d figured out how to run their boats through trial and error.
That could change this year. The state Legislature is considering a bill that would require new boaters to take a water safety course before operating a motorized boat.
Many longtime boaters welcomed the idea — but they admitted they’d never taken a course themselves.
Some boaters also said it might not be a bad idea to sign up.
“I found myself asking a friend, ‘Which way do you go around the red buoys?’ ” said Matt Smith of Gansevoort, who was boating on Saratoga Lake. “When you buy a boat, no one says, ‘This is what you do, this is what you don’t do.’ Stop signs say what to do, but there’s nothing on these buoys.”
New boat owner Brianne Walsh of Clifton Park said she, too, liked the idea of a requirement — but added that adults probably don’t need it.
“Honestly, me and my fiancé picked it up really, really quick,” she said as she hauled out her boat at Saratoga Lake. “This was just pretty simple to understand.”
She and other young boaters argued that most of water safety is simply common courtesy — slowing down near other boats, driving while sober and obeying the speed limit.
But older boaters said there’s much more to learn.
“Just because they’re 18 and all of a sudden they can have the boat, it doesn’t mean they’re experienced,” said Tim Burton of Glenville, who took advantage of the sunny day to stop at Jumpin’ Jack’s in Scotia.
The proposed law would require water safety courses for everyone who turned 18 in 2013 — no matter when they first start driving boats. While that means only young people would have to take a course for now, the requirement would expand over time so that eventually, most new boat owners would have to take a course before putting their boat in the water.
The state Legislature passed the measure last week. It was sponsored by Assemblywoman Sandra Galef, D-Ossining, after a young man in her district drowned when he was abandoned in the water by his friends. The 2012 incident was determined to be a prank gone wrong.
It’s getting safer to be on the water, according to the U.S. Coast Guard, which reported that 2012 had the fewest water fatalities of any year on record.
There were 651 fatalities, a 14 percent decrease. In 86 percent of the cases, the drivers of boats involved in fatalities had not taken a water safety course.
Drinking while driving a boat was the leading factor in deaths on the water, according to the Coast Guard.
But among the top five contributing factors were speeding, inattention and not maintaining a lookout.
Burton said inexperienced boaters have cut the lines from his fishing rods by coming too close to his boat.
Others have had their own bad encounters.
“Some of the people driving the boats, unfortunately, they think it’s party time,” said Denise Johnston of Knox, who has seen boaters come too close to the children she tows behind her boat.
Bob Davis of Rensselaer sees unsafe behavior “every day” at Saratoga Lake.
“Like a lot of those pontoon boats,” he said, gesturing at the many pontoon boats in the lake Monday. “They’re rated for a certain number of people, but you see eight, 10 people on it.”
The water is still so cold that swimmers can get hypothermia. He worried that one of the over-packed pontoons would capsize.
“There is a lot of irresponsible kids out there. And adults! It’s not all kids,” he said.
But some said that they doubted a water-safety course would cure irresponsibility.
“Some people are just airheads,” said 18-year-old Code Fazio of Guilderland, who was heading onto the Mohawk River in Schenectady County with his personal watercraft.
He said he took the safety course years ago so that he could legally drive before he turned 18. The course wasn’t very useful.
“But I’ve always been around machinery and boats. There’s a lot of people who don’t know what they’re doing,” he said. “It would definitely help some who didn’t have common knowledge.”
But it wouldn’t stop young people from driving too fast and drinking too much, said Deanna Iadicicco of Schenectady.
“Will that course help that behavior? I don’t think it will,” she said. “I don’t think it’s a bad idea, but for it to be mandatory, I really don’t think it’s necessary.”
Others dismissed the idea of any need for a special safety course.
“If they have a driver’s license, they should be able to drive any boat. I think it’s easier to drive a boat,” said Steve Kimmey of Troy, who added that a course wouldn’t stop people from drinking and boating.
“They’re going to do it anyways,” he said.