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Boater DUI Law Passes New York Senate

New Yorkers convicted of operating a boat under the influence of alcohol may face additional work before returning to the water.  The New York Senate recently passed Bill S.2903B, which requires all boat operators, regardless of age, to pass a boating safety course before their operating privileges can be restored. New York already requires this of boaters younger than age 21 who are convicted of DUI. The proposed law would make the course required for anyone convicted of operating under the influence. The proposed measure has been sent to the New York State Assembly for further consideration.

New York Boating Accidents Caused By Drunk Operators

Boating accidents caused by drunk operators on Oneida Lake and Skaneateles Lake, and the death of 20-year-old Tiffany Heitkamp on Fourth Lake, near Old Forge, N.Y., have brought the issue of intoxicated boating to the forefront in New York. Heitkamp was killed when the boat she was in flew 150 feet over the shore, ripped a lean-to off its concrete foundation, and hit a fire pit. Four other passengers also sustained injuries ranging from a twisted ankle to broken bones and internal injuries.

The boat's operator was intoxicated and had previously received two other DWIs prior to the fatal accident. He was found guilty of vehicular manslaughter and received a jail sentence of two to six years. Yet legislators are concerned that jail sentences may not be enough. "It is important to educate those who have already been convicted of boating while intoxicated on how to drive a boat safely in the hopes of preventing further tragedies," stated one of the bill's sponsors. "Requiring a boat safety course for all individuals convicted of a watercraft-related drinking offense would help achieve that goal." With peak boating season approaching in New York, the proposed legislation takes on added importance.

Tiffany's Law Develops

Heitkamp's death also spurred the passage of Tiffany's Law, which requires courts to consider all prior alcohol-related convictions, regardless of the type of motor vehicle that was involved. The boat operator in Heitkamp's case received a shorter jail time because his prior DUI convictions were for operating an automobile and could not be considered in determining the sentence for a boating case. Today, prior DUIs for operating automobiles, snowmobiles, all-terrain vehicles (ATVs), and watercraft are all considered in DUI sentencing in New York.