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Connecticut lawmakers seek stiffer boating-license rules

A delegation of Connecticut legislators, prompted by the tubing death of a high school honors student last summer, wants to make getting a boating certificate in the state more in line with obtaining a driver’s license.

Four Greenwich lawmakers are in the early stages of discussing possible legislation to bring forward when the new session begins Jan. 7, according to the Associated Press.

Grant Westerson, former president of the Connecticut Marine Trades Association, said that making boating licenses mirror drivers’ licenses presents all kinds of logistical problems.

“In a perfect world that lengthy process may work, but that’s not what we have to work with,” Westerson said.

For example, figuring out who would be grandfathered into current laws, determining what kind of vessel people will be tested in and whether an applicant gets a learner’s permit would be onerous, Westerson told Trade Only Today.

Even simple things such as determining who would provide the boats could cause a lot of headaches for boaters and state administrators.

The fatal tubing accident, which occurred last summer on Long Island Sound, involved a 16-year-old powerboat operator licensed in the state of Connecticut and pulling two teens on a tube. One of the girls died, and another required stitches on her leg.

“It’s a typical knee-jerk reaction” to a horrific boating accident, Westerson told Trade Only Today, adding that all boating accidents are horrific. “I was involved in putting the boating education and safety requirements together 25 years ago and … it was a pretty onerous thing that we got through pretty well.”

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, the AP story said.

Among his ideas was to bring the state's boat licensing requirements in line with those 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 told the AP. "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 lawmakers discuss.

But Westerson said Connecticut laws are tougher than those of many other states — for example, boaters are required to complete a proctored exam to obtain a safety certificate, rather than just doing it online, as in other areas.

“I think our boating statistics show that it’s been a very effective program,” he said. “Many others across the country are modeled on Connecticut’s.”

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