Brianna’s Law Pushes for Increased Boater Safety

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By Anika Lanser

In January of 2018, Gina Lieneck proposed Brianna’s Law to the New York State Legislature. The law, which pushes for increased regulation of boater safety, is named in honor of Gina’s daughter, Brianna Lieneck, who tragically passed away in a boating accident in the Great South Bay on Aug. 17, 2005. Brianna’s parents were also critically wounded in the accident.

Now, the law has been sponsored by New York Senator Phil Boyle and New York State Assemblywoman Kimberly Jean-Pierre, in their respective houses. The legislation stands on the brink of improving boater safety in the state. Senator Boyle remarked, “I was very moved by Gina’s story and touched by her advocacy. And I agreed with her that I think it’s outrageous, and I’ve felt this for a very long time, that somebody could go and purchase a large boat and not require any training on operating it. I think we need to change that and this is a great piece of legislation that’s going to do just that.”

The law pushes for a number of improvements to the current navigation law to strengthen the education needed to operate boats. The law outlines a number of significant requirements for education and protocol in the event of an incident. Senator Boyle summarized, “Right now, you’re required only if you’re 23 years or younger to take a boating class and you can do that online. [The law] would require that everyone of all ages who purchases a boat, has a safety training class, take a test, and it has to be in person. We may be willing to compromise on this, but the bottom line is we want to make sure that everyone boating on the water has had proper safety courses, just like they would to drive a car.”

For instance, the legislation would require that children between the ages of 10 and 14 only operate a power vessel under 10 horsepower, and under the supervision of an adult (defined as above the age of 18) who has completed an in-person boating safety course.

The proposed legislation includes a provision that requires all power-driven vessels used in teaching on-water training be equipped with a propeller guard. The law also adds a mandate for a Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) test within two hours of an incident when a fatality or serious injury has occurred. It also increases the fines and possibility of imprisonment for operating a boat while intoxicated, and puts the operator at risk of seizure of the boat. These provisions have the potential to help families like the Lienecks, whose boat was purportedly struck by an intoxicated boater, but the delay in BAC testing made these allegations difficult to prove. This left the Lienecks with little recourse in the aftermath of their tragic crash.

The legislation works to address the legacy of lax boating laws in New York, and to limit the use of drugs and alcohol while operating a motor vessel by increasing the consequences for operating a boat while intoxicated. A 2016 report by the U.S. Coast Guard indicated that boating deaths in the state of New York had increased by approximately 47 percent since 2015. According to Newsday, five boaters in Suffolk County and two boaters in Nassau County died in 2016.

In a letter published via the New York Safe Boaters Alliance website Lieneck argues, “We need to make our waterways safer. We need to do whatever it takes to make sure the inadequate laws adopted by New York State be strengthened so that all boaters take a mandatory in-classroom boating safety class, not just those born after 1996. I will not rest until we prevent tragedies on our waterways and save lives.” Lieneck’s petition on change.org to call on New York State Legislators to pass Brianna’s Law currently has almost 4,500 supporters.

On June 19, Brianna’s Law passed in the New York State Assembly. The New York State Legislature session ended before the law could be voted on by the State Senate.

“I’m amazed by Gina and the passion she has brought to this. She’s up in Albany every week advocating to all the senators and assembly people to support this legislation in memory of her daughter. Senator Boyle said. “We’re going to keep fighting, whether it’s this year, next year, and the year after to make it happen.”

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