Inspired by a desire to spare parents the pain of losing their children in boating accidents, a bill that would give boaters a registration discount if they carry an EPIRB or personal locator beacon aboard cleared the Florida legislature.
The House and Senate passed the bill in unanimous votes and Gov. Rick Scott is expected to sign it. The measure would discount registrations by almost 23 percent for the smallest boats and 11.9 percent for the largest ones — with markdowns ranging from 15 to 13 percent for size classes in between — for boat owners who can show they own a properly registered 406 MHz EPIRB or PLB.
The discounts would be effective July 1 but would sunset after a year, so the legislature would have to take them up again in 2017 to continue them. A Senate version of the bill proposed a permanent 25 percent discount for qualifying boats, but the House capped funding for the measure at $250,000 and set its expiration at a year.
Blu Stephanos and Carly Black, the parents of Austin Blu Stephanos, who was lost at sea with friend Perry Cohen after the 14-year-olds went fishing off Jupiter last July in a 19-foot Seacraft, worked with state Sen. Joe Negron and state Rep. Marylynn Magar to write the bill.
The parents said they hope registration discounts will encourage boaters to carry the emergency beacons, which alert the Coast Guard to vessels in distress and lead rescuers to their location with a satellite signal. “We want to help parents — we want to help anyone — not have to go through what we’ve had to go through,” Black said.
The bill replaces funds lost to state boating programs because of the discounts with money from the general revenue fund. It tasks the state Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles with deciding what constitutes proof of qualification for the discount.
Black and Stephanos, with support from beacon-maker ACR Electronics, established the AustinBlu Foundation to honor the teenager’s memory and raise awareness of boating safety, promote boater education and make the tools and technology that can prevent boating accidents available to the public.
This month the foundation began sponsoring free safe-boating classes in Boca Raton, taught by Coast Guard Auxiliary Flotilla 36. The foundation has offered to cover the $35 cost of the one-day classes.
Stephanos and Cohen went out Jupiter Inlet on July 24 in Stephanos’ outboard to fish on the ocean and were not seen again. Their boat probably capsized when a line of squalls moved through the area. Rescuers found the overturned boat two days later off Daytona Beach, but there was no sign of the boys. They were not carrying an EPIRB.