Saratoga County

Boaters back safety law for youth

Any boater born after May 1, 1996, must obtain a safety certificate from a state-approved instructor
Boaters take to Saratoga Lake on Memorial Day.
Boaters take to Saratoga Lake on Memorial Day.

Even at 14, Ryan Cowles already knows his way around a motorboat fairly well.

His father, Chip, has tried to impart some of his lifetime of experience during their ventures out on the water. And with his birthday nearing in August, the Rensselaer youth is getting ready for the day when he’ll pilot the family’s craft by himself.

“I know a little bit already,” he said. “I’m alright.”

But when it comes to safety, there can never be too much instruction, his father explained. That’s why Cowles has no issue with new state legislation that will mandate his son attending an eight-hour certification course before he is legally permitted to operate a motorboat.

“I think a course will be beneficial to him,” the elder Cowles said as he navigated his small fishing boat away from the bustling state launch in Saratoga Springs on Memorial Day. “I can teach him all I know, but I think actually sitting down in a classroom environment would be good for him.”

The legislation signed into law by Gov. Andrew Cuomo last fall went into effect at the start of the month. Now, any boater born after May 1, 1996, must obtain a safety certificate from a state-approved instructor and have it in their possession to legally operate a motorboat in New York.

In lieu of carrying the certificate, young boaters can have their completion of the course denoted on a state driver’s license or nondriver identification. Failure to have either is punishable by a fine of up to $250 and seven days in jail upon the first conviction.

The new regulation doesn’t impact people renting boats, provided they are 18 or older. Renters under the age of 18 must have proof of certification, according to the law.

Veteran boaters like Cowles seemed pleased with the enhanced focus on teaching safety among a new generation. Without this emphasis on safety, the lake can be a dangerous place — especially on a day when hundreds of boaters are crowding the lake.

“Just because someone has the money to buy a boat doesn’t mean they know what to do with it,” Cowles said, “or that they know how to be a safe boater.”

Even experienced boaters can run into trouble. Some on the lake Monday cited a boat crash that killed a Bolton Landing man in a notoriously shallow part of Lake George late Friday. State police investigators are still trying to figure out what happened in the moments before 57-year-old John Michaels veered a 21-foot Steiger Craft into rocks and trees along the shore near Cotton Point Road.

Michaels, co-owner of a successful Malta-based property-development company, was an experienced boater but riding alone at the time of the crash.

Inexperience can make tough situations on the water even more difficult, said Tom Carringi, owner of Point Breeze Marina on Saratoga Lake. He said a lot of customers come into his business without realizing there are standard safety regulations that must be followed for their own protection.

“A lot of them come in here and don’t know any of the regulations,” he said. “A lot of them have no idea.”

So far, Carringi said most of the boaters he’s spoken to on the lake are supportive of the new law. He said many see it as something that could help prevent a tragedy on the water.

“It’s preparing so that something doesn’t happen,” he said. “You never can have enough education out here on the water.”

Rebecca Marra of Rexford agreed. Describing herself as a novice boater who sticks to Saratoga Lake because of its relatively small size, she sees the new legislation as something that could help tame some of the wild behavior she sees on the water.

“It’s crazy out here if you don’t know what you’re doing,” she said. “It’s crazy as it is.”

At 20, Kara Comanzo of Niskayuna isn’t mandated to take the course, but she took it anyway after being compelled by her parents a couple years ago.

“People can be dangerous out here if they don’t know what they’re doing,” she said.

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