Enjoying Long Island’s waters safely is the priority of the Town of North Hempstead, especially because alcohol use is the top contributor in fatal boating accidents, accounting for 21 percent of deaths, according to Recreational Boating Statistics.
Nassau County law-enforcement agencies, elected officials and the Nassau County district attorney warned local residents about the dangers of Boating While Intoxicated (BWI) at the Town Dock in Port Washington on June 30.
“By having our Town Bay Constables, neighboring marine patrols and law enforcement all gathered here today overlooking Manhasset Bay, we are sending a clear message to anyone thinking of drinking and operating a boat—don’t do it,” Town of North Hempstead Supervisor Judi Bosworth said. “We will be out there in force keeping the waters safe for all recreational boaters. And if you choose to ignore the warning, you will be arrested and could face both fines and jail time.”
The summer is a “time for friends, family, barbecues, visiting the beach and enjoying a boat ride,” Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas said. “But for many of us in law enforcement, this is a busy time. The number of BWI incidents skyrockets during the holiday. BWI or impaired by drugs is extremely dangerous and illegal, and it is the leading cause of fatal boat crashes. Our partners are increasing enforcement and will arrest you if you endanger yourself and others by operating a boat while you are impaired.”
In New York state, anyone operating a boat, Jet Ski or other watercraft with a blood alcohol content of .08 percent or higher will be arrested for BWI. The punishment for a first offense of BWI (a misdemeanor) is a maximum of one year in prison, a fine of no less than $500 and no more than $1,000 or both a fine and imprisonment. Second and third offenses within specific time periods are felonies and have harsher penalties.
New York State Senator Jack Martins and Assemblywoman Michelle Schimel informed residents about Tiffany Heitkamp’s Law, recently passed by the Senate and Assembly, which directs judges to consider previous DWI convictions upon sentencing BWI defendants.
“Drunk driving endangers lives regardless of whether you’re operating a car or boat,” said Martins. “The state legislature recently acted to ensure that individuals’ prior convictions of operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated are considered when they commit another offense, regardless of the type of vehicle they’re driving. Don’t find that out the hard way; be safe and designate a driver.”
Schimel added, “A boat ride should be a fun, safe and enjoyable outing. Tiffany Heitkamp’s Law is named for a young woman from Syracuse who was killed on a vessel operated by an intoxicated boater with a long record of DWIs. This legislation directs judges to consider previous DWI convictions upon sentencing BWI defendants and sends a clear message: ‘Don’t drink and drive, and don’t drink and operate a boat.’”
Bosworth also informed residents about some staggering statistics regarding accidents on the water. According to Recreational Boating Statistics, an annual report that contains statistics on recreational boating accidents, in 2014 the Coast Guard counted 4,064 accidents that involved 610 deaths, 2,678 injuries and approximately $39 million worth of damage to property as a result of recreational boating accidents.
For more information on safety tips and navigation rules, call 311. The tide table for Manhasset Bay is available at www.northhempsteadny.gov/harbor-and-marine.