Suffolk County Legislature May Require All Boaters To Take A Safety Course

Legislator Steve Stern of Dix HIlls has sponsored a new bill that would require all boat operators to complete a boating safety course or face a fine. The fines that would be imposed are $250 and up to $1,000 and prison time for repeated offenses.

This year alone there have been a number of tragic boating accidents on Long Island, including a recent death in the Hamptons that involved a jet skier. Yet as a sailor and a boater, let it be known, I’m completely against this bill and hope that it is scrapped.

When I was 12 years old, I took a boating safety course. It was sponsored by the coast guard and I learned basic aspects of boating that I already knew, such as right-of-way rules, port and starboard, stern and bow, as well as what is required to be present on a boat (lifejackets, fire extinguishers, etc…).

The course was not voluntary, and my understanding at the time was that I was taking it because 1) my parents wanted me there because they knew I was into boating, and 2), because if you don’t have a driver’s license, by law, you need to take that course (correct me if I’m wrong on that).

Today, you need nothing more than a driver’s license and a boat to take to the waters legally. But everybody knows that being safe while boating is all about experience and having a captain who is a responsible person. Experience and having a “safety first” type of mind is EVERYTHING when it comes to boating safely. And I mean EVERYTHING.

Forcing people to take a class in order to operate a boat will prevent many individuals from taking up boating because they won’t want to deal with the government bureaucracy behind it and will be afraid of getting ticketed. The irresponsible people out there who drink and boat aren’t doing so because they don’t know the rules. They know it’s bad, they do it anyway, and they should be arrested for it. Those are the majority of the people who end up in serious boating accidents.

I’m all for safety. In fact, I’d actually be into taking a boating safety course again just to catch up and enjoy it, but to be forced to do that in order to take my sailboat out seems crazy after having nearly 20 years of boating experience.

People who learn how to boat and have never been boating before learn through either paying a teacher or getting a lesson from a friend or family member. I’m also a believer that for some, boating comes naturally, in the same way that fishing or surfing comes naturally to some.

Here’s my prediction: The bill goes through, some people take the course, some people don’t, and government officials are given a new reason to harass good people for no reason. There will be instances in which a man is ticketed $250 for not having taken the course and has been boating for 40 years, and there will be instances where a man is not fined because he has the certificate and then subsequently crashes his boat because he becomes overconfident from the course and does things beyond his experience level.

At the same time, the accidents caused by irresponsible people will continue at the same rate, because there are a lot of dumb people out there, and because I believe that there is a culture in America that is encouraging people to be irresponsible. That culture is growing because many people are feeling that they don’t have to worry too much about their own lives because the government will somehow take care of them.

I can’t agree with the argument that just because people take a safety course, they will be more responsible. Being responsible has everything to do with how you’re raised and having experiences that teach you life lessons about the importance of being responsible for yourself.

I’m in favor of stricter and increased fines for people who boat while intoxicated, and for more enforcement on that front. That will help solve some of the issue of stopping idiots driving boats. Nit picking something like a safety course isn’t going to help anything. Everybody knows it’s completely irresponsible to get drunk and drive a boat, you don’t need a course on that, and that is the problem. The rest of the issues entirely have to do with people pushing their personal experience levels—and that’s on the individual in my opinion, not the government.

As for other instances, such as a boat that is overpacked with people and capsizes, again, that has to do with being irresponsible. How many people on that boat say to themselves, “Gee, this boat is really packed and this is a pretty dangerous thing to do but I don’t care.”

I’m in favor of providing boat safety courses and I’m in favor of their being recommended as something that people who boat should do. But to require it, and to expect that it will do more good than harm, that just doesn’t make sense to me and is another example of government expansion and intrusion that’s unnecessary and unhelpful.

Don’t get me wrong, there are a number of government initiatives that I think are important and I support (for example, I think the more drinking and driving enforcement, the better), but I have to stand up and say something when I feel like it will do more harm than good for people and society as a whole.

I’ll leave you with this video so tat you can laugh today:

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