SAFETY CHECK — PEF member Brian Kempf, a senior marine services representative, adjusts a life jacket on Julie Ford from West Marine in Latham after setting-up a safe boating display. May is safe boating month. More information can be found at
www.SafeBoatingCampaign.com. — Photo by Deborah A. Miles
Office of Parks, Recreation pushes for boating safety
State allows pre-teens to operate Jet Skis
By DEBORAH A. MILES
Some things just don’t make any sense. Imagine allowing a child to operate an 800-pound vehicle that travels at high speeds.
New York state does.
The vehicle is a personal watercraft, such as a Jet Ski or Wave Runner. And in this state, you can operate one at age 10.
“To protect the safety of young children, we need to limit their access to what is otherwise a motorcycle on water,” said Brian
Kempf, a senior marine services representative at the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, is trying to keep young children safe by supporting legislation that would increase the age for individuals who operate personal watercraft.
“They are very big, powerful machines capable of speeds in excess of 60 mph. A child doesn’t have the strength or skills to safely operate one,” he said.
Kempf, a PEF Division 305 member, said neighboring states have a higher age limit, plus the Personal Watercraft Manufacturers Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics urge that no one less than 16-years old operate a personal watercraft by themselves.
The statutes in New York date back to the early 1960s, a time when a Jet Ski wasn’t even on the drawing board. Kempf said his agency supports the new regulations.
Education saves lives
Kempf’s agency has made progress by getting legislation passed that requires individuals to take an 8–hour boating safety class to legally operate a personal watercraft.
“We have more than 50,000 registered in the state,” Kempf said. “A lot of people who use them are not clued-in like a traditional boater.”
Since people have been taking the course to get their operator’s certificate, personal watercraft accidents dropped from 30 percent four years ago to 13 percent last year. “Being required to get an education certificate has made a difference,” he said.
Winter boating perilous
Another hot issue is mandatory life jacket wear. The U.S. Coast Guard statistics show nearly 80 percent of those who die in recreational boating accidents could have survived had they worn a life jacket.
Kempf said one-third of fatal boating accidents occur between November and early May. That’s partly because of colder water temperatures.
“Also, there are fewer people around and fewer marine law enforcement officers to help you,” he said. “If it’s not a self-rescue, you’re probably not going to make it.
“Statistically, the people who die in boating accidents enter the water unexpectedly. Once that happens, it’s too late to reach for a life jacket, particularly in cold water.”
Kempf said a department bill that would require mandatory life jacket wear from November to May did pass the Assembly in 2004, but not the Senate. The agency is hoping the bill will go before the Legislature in 2006.
It’s a challenge for local law enforcement to keep people safe on the water, especially with 520,000 registered boats in the state. So, training officers is also a priority. Kempf shares the responsibility with three other PEF members — Larry Migliozzi, Peter Gionet and Rose Anne Woodard.
“We have a 40-hour course of fundamental marine law enforcement,” Kempf said. “Officers come from every walk of life — bay constables, harbor masters, state police, county sheriffs, anyone with an interest in law enforcement and marine safety.”
For seasoned officers, a weeklong training program is also offered. In this course, Kempf said officers learn advanced boat handling skills.
His advice to boaters: “As we move closer to the summer, I would encourage boaters to learn more about safe boating, take a class, wear a life jacket and don’t mix alcohol with boating.”
For more information, visit www.nysparks.com/boats.
Communicator May 2005
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