By Alec Giufurta
Facing what is traditionally a busy holiday weekend for the East End’s waterways, the Coast Guard announced plans to crack down on infractions in a Thursday morning news conference.
In the Northeast, the Coast Guard has tallied a 400-percent increase in boating-related fatalities so far this year, compared with the same time period last year. Nationwide, the increase stands at 19 percent, according to a Coast Guard press release.
“It’s been tragic,” said Commander Valerie Boyd, chief of response for Sector Long Island Sound, at the news conference held Thursday morning, June 25, at Station Shinnecock in Hampton Bays.
“These fatalities were absolutely preventable,” Cmdr. Boyd continued. She explained how “the overwhelming cause” of death was from boats that capsized during poor boating conditions, most during small craft advisories — a notice issued by the National Weather Service indicating that high seas or rough winds make boating untenable for smaller vessels.
Because of the spike in fatalities, the Coast Guard plans to heighten its presence on local waters, Cmdr. Boyd said.
Commanding officer of the Shinneock Station, Chief Warrant Officer Greg Pescuna, pivoted to note how boating under the influence has also historically been a cause of boating accidents. He then announced plans for an enhanced push to enforce boating under the influence regulations.
From July 3 to July 5, boaters should “anticipate checkpoints from local and state agencies,” Chief Pescuna said, calling the holiday one “known for drinking, boating and deadly accidents.”
Accordingly, he explained how the weekend’s “heightened awareness and enforcement” is not exclusive to the East End — it’s a national endeavor, part of Operation Dry Water.
Launched in 2009, Operation Dry Water is a year-round program that aims to curtail boating under the influence through education and enforcement. Chief Pescuna explained that the operation will begin “an intensified effort” over the holiday weekend to enforce boating laws in East End waters.
On the East End, the Coast Guard will team up with local law enforcement agencies, including every South Fork police department and the New York State Police, to patrol waters, Chief Pescuna said.
“A BUI is no different than a DUI,” he said. When a person’s blood alcohol level rises above 0.08, they’re violating BUI laws, he added.
Chief Pescuna added that boaters should continue to ensure their vessels are stocked with the proper number of lifejackets — one per passenger, a marine VHF radio and non-expired fire extinguishers.
Chief Pescuna closed by acknowledging the need for boaters to take precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19. He stressed the boaters should not boat with anyone outside their household or rack onto other vessels.
“With the COVID-19 pandemic, you really don’t know what to expect. I know a lot of folks are cooped up in their homes, they want to be out in the environment, start boating … we always urge everyone to monitor the weather and be safe on the water,” he said.