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