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Ossining Mom: Boat Safety Laws Could Avert Drownings

OSSINING, N.Y. – The mother of the Ossining man who drowned last month off of City Island says proposed legislation from Assemblywoman Sandy Galef (D-Ossining) and state Sen. David Carlucci (D-Rockland/Orange) could have saved her son.

“I feel it’s appalling to know that New York state has no mandatory safety boating education requirements for operating a watercraft,” Sheila Lilley said during a press conference Thursday morning at Ossining’s Boathouse Restaurant. “For someone to be playing a prank in the dead of darkness and have none of these safety tools is unacceptable. To think you don’t even need a boating license. That’s even insane.”

Lilley referred to the tragedy of her 26-year-old son, Bryan Johnson, who reportedly drowned after he went missing on June 20 near City Island. In response to the tragedy and others like it, Galef and Carlucci are working to get bills passed that would require mechanically propelled vessel operators to obtain a boating safety certificate. Dozens of local and state officials met Thursday outside the Boathouse Restaurant to show support of the proposed legislation.

“We know that New York state has to take the lead on this and make sure that these tragedies stop,” Galef said during the press conference. “We can do it with the proper legislation.”

Galef and Carlucci introduced a related bill in April that provides certification at a discount once operators complete a boating safety course through a phased-in approach. The bill passed the Assembly in April.

Galef noted that Connecticut and New Jersey require safety certificates and 30 other states have adopted stronger legislation than New York. Galef repeated that it might not be possible to stop all future tragedies from occurring, but something can be done to make the water safer.

“We won’t be able to prevent it entirely,” she said Thursday. “But our state needs to do as much as we can.”

While similar legislation has failed in the past, Carlucci said he is optimistic that the two new bills will gain support in the Assembly and Senate.

“It’s unfortunate that it takes a tragedy to get people’s attention,” Carlucci said. “We’ve been working on getting something passed for some time. I’m pretty confident we’ll be able to pass this legislation. It’s common sense. We’re not recreating the wheel; we’re implementing systems that work.”

Ossining Town Supervisor Susanne Donnelly, who is an avid sailor, said she is in full support of the proposed legislation.

“It is very essential that all boaters, and I would encourage that regardless of age, take a boating class because it is important that we all work together,” Donnelly said. “This legislation is a much-needed first step, and while it does not require all boaters to take the class when the law is first enacted, it should be stressed to all boaters that they should take the course.” 

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