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John Skinner

John Skinner is the author of Fishing the Bucktail and A Season on the Edge. He’s the creator of the fishing log software FishersLog. He’s a consistent producer of trophy striped bass and holds the current New York State false albacore record.

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February 08, 2013

Suffolk's New Boating Safety Law Can be Satisfied with a Free On-Line Course

by John Skinner

I wrote a recent Blog entry about the new Suffolk County law (law text) that requires all Suffolk County residents boating on Suffolk County waters to take a boating safety course and have the safety certification on-board. You can read that Blog entry here if you missed it. I took the course last weekend in a classroom setting because I was under the impression that online classes without a proctored exam would not satisfy the law. After some communications with the County Executive's office, I think it's safe to say that you can satisfy the course requirement online and absolutely free. The key is the very end of this part of the law:

No resident of Suffolk County shall operate a pleasure vessel upon the waters of Suffolk County unless the operator is the holder of a boating safety certificate issued by the Commissioner of the New York State Department of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation; by the United States Power Squadrons; by the United States Coast Guard Auxiliary; or by any entity that offers a boating course that meets the standards set by the National Association of Boating Law Administrators.

If you go to the BoatUS Online Learning Center, it opens with

"Welcome to the new BoatUS Foundation Online Learning Center. Our free, interactive, non-proctored course and exam has been approved by the National Association of Boating Law Administrators (NASBLA)".

So right off this course sounds like it will satisfy the County law. If you follow the link to the BoatUS New York course page, things become a little more iffy. The webpage says:

"The BoatUS Foundation's Online Course is the only free Online Boating Safety Course approved by the New York State Parks & Recreation for boaters 18 years of age and older.

I'm not sure what BoatUS means by this statement, because NYS does not require a safety course for for boaters 18 years or older. You can read the requirements on the New York State Parks site.

The BoatUS website goes on to say:

"This course is NOT approved for New York residents who are 10 through 17 years of age, wishing to operate a motorboat, and residents 14 years of age and older, wishing to operate a PWC. These boaters are required to pass a New York State Parks & recreation approved classroom boating safety course."

Are you confused yet? I was, but it seemed to me that the wording of the County law left open the possibility of the BoatUS online course satisfying the new law. I contacted the Suffolk County Executive's Office to get clarification. This is the summary question I posed to John Marafino, a Community Relations Assistant in the County Executive's office.

"The Yes/No question I need answered is whether this online class http://www.boatus.org/onlinecourse/NewYork.asp will meet the requirement of the new law..."

Here was his response:

Dear John,
 
My understanding of the NASBLA website is that the listings of classes on there, online or in person, satisfy the requirement of the new law. Since the Boatus.org website is on the NASBLA site, you will fulfill the new law's requirement by taking it.
 
John Marafino
Community Relations Assistant
Office of the Suffolk County Executive

So there you have it. If you live and boat in Suffolk and have not yet satisfied the new boater safety law requirement, you apparently can do it free and online. I'm writing this as the blizzard is bearing down, so I'm thinking this might be a good way to be productive while we're snowed in for a few days – assuming we have electricity and Internet access.

February 03, 2013

A New Law for Suffolk Residents

by John Skinner

It's hard to imagine that I could be boating on my home waters and be given a citation for breaking a law that applies to me only because I live in Suffolk County, and that nearby boats from a different county or state do not have to abide by that law. Such is the case with the "Suffolk's Safer Waterways Act", a product of the Suffolk County Legislature that was signed into law last October. It requires that operators of boats on Suffolk County waterways take a safety course and have the corresponding safety certificate on the vessel. What I find remarkable about the law is that it applies only to Suffolk residents. Here is the exact wording.

"A. No resident of Suffolk County shall operate a pleasure vessel upon the waters of Suffolk County unless the operator is the holder of a boating safety certificate issued by the Commissioner of the New York State Department of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation; by the United States Power Squadrons; by the United States Coast Guard Auxiliary; or by any entity that offers a boating course that meets the standards set by the National Association of Boating Law Administrators.
B. All residents of Suffolk County operating a pleasure vessel upon the waters of Suffolk County shall maintain their boating safety certificate on board their vessel during all periods of operation."

The law will take effect in November of this year. The penalty for a first offense can be as high as $250. You can read the bill in its entirety here. I took the NYS Parks course the day before this writing, so I'll tell you a little about it.
It's 8 hours, followed by a 50-question multiple choice test. I took mine in one long session, and the class was a courtesy of the Eastport Fire Department. The only cost for my certification was a $10 fee to New York State. When I was looking for a course, most charged between $50 and $65, in addition to the $10 fee. Most classes are broken into multiple sessions.
I have about 35 years of experience operating small boats, and I learned very little in the course. I passed the test with a score of 98%, missing one question on the precise definition of a Personal Water Craft, aka Jet Ski. It's not an option to take the test without taking the course, but had I done so, I would have easily beaten the minimum 75% score required for passing. I'm not saying that the course is worthless. I'd strongly recommend that new boaters take it and I'm sure it would be very helpful to someone with little boating experience. My major gripe is that this law singles out Suffolk County residents and was placed upon us by a minor league law making body, and is written in such a poor fashion that it excludes many of the people on the water.
I'd have much more respect for this law if it was enacted at the State or Federal level. Perhaps the Coast Guard would too. The Easthampton Star reported in October that "As a federal agency, the Coast Guard will not be enforcing the law, according to Senior Chief Petty Officer Jason Walter of the Montauk station."
The course I took covered all of the subject matter that you would expect, including navigation rules, required safety equipment, and accident prevention. I was also taught something I didn't expect. According to the instructional manual provided by New York State, fishermen are generally among the most irresponsible boaters. I'll quote from page 54 of the manual: "Anglers and hunters often don't consider themselves boaters and often pay little attention to learning and observing boating safety rules." Are these people serious? Apparently so, since this was also part of the final exam.
So that's how I spent my Saturday, and if you live in Suffolk and haven't done so already, you'll need to do the same or be subjected to the potential of stiff fines. You might as well get it over with during the offseason. Here's a link to classes being offered by the State: NYS Boating Safety Courses
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