No one knows at this point just why the boat carrying veteran fishermen Mark and Brent Richards capsized on Great Sacandaga Lake May 18 — whether the size or condition or their boat, their weight, operator error or alcohol may have contributed to their drowning. It’s also hard to say whether they might have met a different fate had they taken the kind of water safety course the state Legislature recently mandated for young boaters — but it probably wouldn’t have hurt.
As Kathleen Moore’s post-Memorial Day report from Saratoga Lake indicated, a great many New Yorkers subscribe to the theory that driving a car is comparable to driving a boat, thus there’s no need to learn about the differences before attempting to do the latter for the first time. After all, isn’t “on-the-job experience” how most boaters learned back when?
Even if the answer is yes, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the safest way to do it.
Whether it’s knowing how to perform a vessel safety check, how to navigate buoys or tides, how much distance to give other boats, how fast to go in a harbor or even how to put on a lifejacket, there’s more to boating than simply jumping in, starting the motor and casting off. A lot may resemble rules of the road in driving a car, and a lot may be common sense and courtesy, but for whatever reason, there are apparently plenty of boaters who either fail to observe these rules or exercise common sense and courtesy.
And then there’s the issue of alcohol: Boaters don’t seem to fear the waterways when it comes to drinking the way they do the roads, but it’s absolutely illegal to drive a boat while intoxicated and getting caught results in a costly fine.
Still, driving a boat recklessly doesn’t result in the same kind of punishment as driving a car that way: In a worst-case scenario, someone loses their right to operate; but it’s harder to enforce that than it is a driver’s license suspension. And since most boating is recreational, even losing one’s operating privilege isn’t such a serious threat.
But making sure all boaters know the “rules of the road” is a good idea. The law awaiting Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s signature would require only new boaters 18 years of age to take a boating safety course before being allowed to pilot a motor boat. He should sign it, but as the deaths of the Broadalbin father and son suggest, all boaters might benefit from such a course.