Boat-safety bill advances to state House [Connecticut Post]

April 21, 2015

Article as it appeared in the Connecticut Post

HARTFORD — Motorboat operators would have to be at least 16 and complete a course in safe towing under legislation approved by the Judiciary Committee on Monday in response to last summer’s tragic death of Greenwich teenager Emily Fedorko.

Called “Emily’s law” in memory of the 16-year-old high-schooler who was killed by the propeller of a boat operated by a friend, the bill moves to the full state Senate for action.

The bill has changed somewhat since it was introduced in January. Originally, it would have prohibited children under 18 from towing water skiers or tubers. However, the age was lowered during legislative negotiations.

State Rep. Fred Camillo, R-Greenwich, said the goal has always been to promote water safety.

“Accidents can happen,” he said in a Monday interview. “You can never legislate to the point where it’s 100 percent foolproof. It was incumbent upon us to make sure that when there’s a tragedy like this, you look at the laws and the regulations so the chances of this happening in the future are diminished.”

Sen. L. Scott Frantz, R-Greenwich, said the bill was a compromise after the boating industry balked at raising the age to 18.

“Most kids brought up in boating families, they’re out water skiing at age 8 or 10, and at 12½ they can operate a 1,000-horsepower boat and tow other kids,” Frantz said. “That strikes me as ridiculous.”

He said the Fedorko family is in support of the legislation, along with the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection and the boating industry.

Under the bill, a person who tows another would have to be at least 16 and hold a valid Coast Guard license or DEEP certificate, and a DEEP safe-towing endorsement. Violators could be penalized from $60 to $250.

Boat owners would be prohibited from allowing children under 16 to operate a vessel while towing another. The rules would not apply to emergencies on the water.

The bill would also require the DEEP to develop safe-towing instruction for inclusion in its safe-boating courses by Oct. 1.

While the bill would allow DEEP to create an online instruction course, Camillo said he hopes an interested nonprofit foundation could fund an interactive simulator.

Fedorko died Aug. 6, after the motorboat pulling her and another teenager suddenly stopped. The other girl was injured in the town’s first boating fatality in 20 years.

Police said the boat’s operator, another teenage girl, was properly licensed.

Nonpartisan researchers in the Office of Legislative Research found that between July 1, 2013, and June 30, 2014, there were 55 violations of safe-boating regulations.