Senate OKs Bill Setting Minimum Age For Boaters Towing Skiers, Tubers [Hartford Courant]

May 8, 2015

Article as it appeared in the Hartford Courant

HARTFORD — The Senate on Thursday approved a bill, prompted by a fatal boating accident in Greenwich, that would establish a minimum age of 16 for anyone towing a water skier or tuber.

Under the bill’s provisions, a person towing someone in the water must also have a state-issued boating certificate or a boating operator’s license from the U.S. Coast Guard. Now, children aged 13 and older are allowed to drive powerboats, without adult supervision, if they have passed a boating safety course. The proposed regulations do not apply in cases of emergencies when a person’s life is at stake.

The measure passed 33-0, with three senators absent. It now goes to the state House of Representatives.

The bill was crafted in response to the death of Emily Fedorko, a 16-year-old who was riding on a tube with a friend as they were being towed behind a 21-foot powerboat with a 200-horsepower outboard motor, driven by another 16-year-old girl. Emily and the other girl were riding the tube in Long Island Sound off the Greenwich coast on Aug. 6, 2014, when they fell off.

The boat’s operator turned around to pick them up, and Emily was struck by the propeller and died from her injuries. Her friend, a 15-year-old, suffered severe leg injuries, but survived.

“This was a tragedy that sent shock waves, not just through the district, but throughout all of New England,” said Sen. L. Scott Frantz, a Greenwich Republican and longtime boater. “While it’s impossible to legislate accidents out of existence, we can do everything we can to try to minimize these accidents. Right now, a 13-year-old can get in a boat and tow … without any adult supervision.”

Emily’s parents, Joseph and Pam Fedorko, came to the Capitol in February to testify about the accident and call for improved boating safety. Senators noted that the family created the Emily Catherine Fedorko Foundation to promote boating safety.

“We need to learn from this so we can make a difference and protect someone from the pain we feel every day,” Joseph Fedorko testified. “Please help us make a difference.”

Those who violate the law would face fines ranging from $60 to $250. The legislature’s nonpartisan fiscal office reported that 55 people were charged with boating violations during the 2014 fiscal year, which generated $3,650 in revenue for the state.

Sen. Ted Kennedy Jr., the co-chairman of the environment committee, said the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection must write new boating regulations and include them in courses about safe towing before the new law can take effect on Oct. 1. In addition, DEEP must update its website to include safe towing instructions.