State's boating laws could be updated in 2015
Hartford - A legislative delegation moved by the August tubing death of a Greenwich High School honors student wants the General Assembly to take a closer look at Connecticut's boating laws.
The four Greenwich lawmakers are in the early stages of discussing possible legislation to bring forward when the new session begins Jan. 7.
"You can't legislate everything. We know that. You're never going to have a 100 percent, foolproof system," said Rep. Fred Camillo, R-Greenwich. "What you can always do is lessen the chance of something happening."
Greenwich Selectman Drew Marzullo, a paramedic who responded to the boating accident that killed 16-year-old honors student Emily Fedorko on Long Island Sound, sent members of the delegation a letter urging them to tighten the laws. Among his ideas was to bring the state's boat licensing requirements in line with requirements for obtaining a driver's license. In the letter, he said a boat powered by an engine can be just as dangerous as a car, if not more so because of the risk of drowning.
"I don't want to imply that examining boating regulations in some way would have prevented the accident. I don't know," Marzullo said. "I think it would be beneficial and in some ways a long overdue discussion to have examining the boating laws."
Marzullo said changes in age requirements for operating a boat or required protective covers on propeller blades could be among the ideas discussed by lawmakers.
Police say Emily was struck by the propeller of a boat that had been towing her and a 15-year-old girl, who was injured. The 16-year-old girl driving the 200-horsepower, 21-foot powerboat was licensed, according to authorities.
Since the accident, Emily's family created a foundation in her name, attempting to increase education, advocacy and awareness of boating and water sport safety for adults and children.
State records show there are typically one or more boating-related fatalities on Connecticut waters each year. In 2013, the most recent statistics provided by the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, there was one.
According to DEEP, there were 39 boating accidents reported to state authorities in 2013. Of those, 13 resulted in at least one injury while 28 accidents resulted in only property damage. Most of the boating accidents involved vessels 16 to 26 feet long.
DEEP said 15 percent of the accidents in 2013 with at least one injury - two out of the 13 accidents - were alcohol-related.
The issue of boat safety has attracted the attention of the legislature's nonpartisan Office of Legislative Research. In its annual preview of major issues for the upcoming legislative session, the agency suggested changes to Connecticut's age restrictions and education requirements that could be considered by state lawmakers.
Currently in Connecticut, an operator generally must obtain a boating certificate from DEEP. Those can be acquired after completing a safe-boating course and passing a test. An operator must be at least 12 and hold a boating certificate to drive a motorboat exceeding 10 horsepower. Younger people with a boating certificate can also operate a boat but only if accompanied by someone at least 18 who holds a certificate.
Camillo said it's too soon to say whether lawmakers will recommend raising the age to operate a boat. However, he said they are looking into whether a more hands-on process for testing applicants for boating certificates is necessary, such as out on the water.