New NY Boating Law: What Operators Need To Know To Prevent Accidents


New NY Boating Law: What Operators Need To Know To Prevent Accidents

boating accidents

Governor Andrew Cuomo passed a new boating law this week that is looking to keep New Yorkers safer on the water. According to the Daily News, the legislation known as Brianna’s Law aims to place stricter training regulations on motor boat operators to reduce boating accidents caused by reckless driving. The law was named after 11-year-old Brianna Lieneck from Long Island, who was killed in a motor boating accident in Great South Bay nearly 20 years ago.

Motor boats can be deadly when drivers are unaware of how to operate them safely. New York City boaters should familiarize themselves with the new law and other safety regulations on the water that can help reduce the occurrence of accidents this season.

Brianna’s Law

Brianna’s Law was signed by Gov. Cuomo on Tuesday after years of repeatedly failing to pass in Albany. In the summer of 2005, Brianna and her family were on a boat, making their way to the Bay Shore Marina. Another vessel crashed into them from behind, causing a 1,200-pound canopy to collapse on top of the family. Brianna was killed in the accident and her family sustained critical injuries. 

In light of this tragedy, Brianna’s mother, Gina Lieneck, felt compelled to protect New York families from facing similar accidents. Gina’s push for Brianna’s Law requires all operators of mechanically propelled vessels in state waters to complete an eight-hour boating safety course to obtain a boaters safety certificate. The law will take effect using a five-year phase-in to allow boaters time to comply with the new regulations. 

The passing of Brianna’s Law will affect thousands of avid boaters in New York State who have never had to enroll in a safety course before. Prior law only required motor boat operators to enroll in a safety course if they were born on or after May 1, 1996. 

The following motor boat operators were all previously exempt from having to hold a boating safety certificate, according to the New York State Boating Guide

  • Persons born before May 1, 1996
  • Certified New York Safe Boating Instructors
  • Members of the USCG Auxiliary or US Power Squadron
  • Persons licensed by NYS Parks, the United States Coast Guard or Canadian Coast Guard to operate commercial vessels
  • Police officers, peace officers, fire and rescue personnel, and life guards

when acting pursuant to assigned duties

  • A resident of another state or country who is the holder of a valid boating

safety certificate issued according to the laws of their home state or country

Operator inattention and inexperience are two of the leading causes of boating accidents in New York, according to the NY Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. With stricter boating laws in place, state officials and the Lieneck family are hopeful that future boating tragedies can be prevented by educating boaters on the dangers of their vessels. 

The Deadly Truth About Motor Boats

Motor boats are one of the most dangerous vessels on the water, capable of causing catastrophic injuries. New York State reported 203 boating accidents in 2018, most of which involved motor boats. At least 108 people were injured in these accidents and 19 New Yorkers lost their lives.

From 2005 to 2018, New York State saw a total of 296 fatal boating accidents. NY Parks and Recreation reports the following statistics surrounding motor boat accidents in New York: 

  • 61 percent of all boating accidents involved a cabin or open motor boat.
  • 60 percent of all people injured in a boating accident were occupants of a motor boat. 
  • 37 percent of the fatalities reported were occupants of a motor boat.

July and August are the two months in New York with the highest fatal accident rate; July saw a total of 886 accidents with 71 resulting in fatalities, where August saw 708 accidents resulting in 54 fatalities.

Most Common Causes of Fatal Motor Boating Accidents 

The excessive speed and force of motor boats automatically puts operators and passengers at risk. The severity of injuries sustained in boating accidents are significantly higher when motor boats are involved. This includes both the occupants of the motor boat and surrounding vessels. 

These are the top 10 leading causes of fatal boating accidents in New Yew from 2005 to 2018 and the number of deaths as a result: 

1. Alcohol Use (59 deaths)

Drinking and boating is no safer than drinking and driving. Alcohol use while operating a boat was the leading cause of boating fatalities. Operating a boat while impaired can cause drivers to misjudge speed, distance, reaction time, and to miss surrounding vessels or objects. 

2. Hazardous Waters (31 deaths)

Motor boats do not fair extremely well in rough waters. Choppy waves can cause passengers to fall overboard, while excess water can increase the chance of a motor malfunction.

3. Passenger or Skier Behavior (26 deaths)

Passengers can be put at serious risk for fatal accidents when participating in risky behaviors on motor boats. If a passenger is wandering around the boat while it’s in motion, they are not wearing a life jacket, or they pull risky moves while tubing/skiing, motor boat accidents can have serious consequences.

4. Weather (24 deaths)

New York waters are not always accommodating for boaters. When the weather takes a turn for the worst, rough waters can put even the most experienced boaters in danger. Storms and rain can provide decreased visibility, making it more difficult to navigate a boat to safety. 

5. No Proper Lookout (15 deaths) 

The operator of a motor boat is 100 percent responsible for properly looking out for other vehicles and hazards on the water. Failure to pay attention can lead to collisions, capsizing, and the ejection of passengers in the case of an accident. 

6. Excessive Speed (13 deaths)

Speeding increases the severity of boating accidents in the same way it increases the risk of life-threatening injuries on the road. Excessive speeds give drivers less time to react to hazards in their path and can lead to serious trauma injuries in a collision. 

7. Operator Inexperience (11 deaths)

Drivers who are not familiar with how a boat is operated can easily cause accidents. Operators who cannot navigate the boat safely pose the risk of crashing into other vessels, fixed objects, floating objects, and more. Boat operators can also put themselves and passengers in danger by improperly loading items or causing deadly machine malfunctions leading to carbon monoxide leaks.

8. Operator Inattention (10 deaths)

Motor boats can cause catastrophic accidents when drivers are distracted. Smaller boats and swimmers are at serious risk with little protection if a motor boat does not see them in their path. And motor boats that collide with other power motor vessels pose the risk of explosions or fires in a crash.

Motor Boating Leads To Serious Injuries

Occupants of motor boats do not only get injured more often, their injuries are more severe. The most common injury types reported for each vessel include: 

  • Auxiliary Sail: lacerations
  • Inflatable: lacerations
  • Kayak: broken bones, contusion, hypothermia
  • Sail only: hypothermia
  • SUP: hypothermia
  • Personal Watercraft: abrasion, broken bones, contusion, discretion, fracture, head injury, hypothermia, internal injuries, laceration, teeth or jaw. 
  • Cabin Motorboat: abrasion, broken bones, burns, contusion, hypothermia, laceration, sprain/strain
  • Open Motorboat: abrasion, amputation, back injury, broken bones, burns, contusion, fracture, laceration, neck injury, spinal injury, sprain/strain. 

Open motorboats pose the most risk for injury in an accident because there is no cabin to contain passengers from being ejected. Personal watercraft, which also use motors, are another dangerous piece of recreational equipment. These vessels require operators to be over 14 and to carry a boater safety certificate, a law implemented back in January 2005. 

How To Reduce Accidents 

Boating does not have to be dangerous this summer. NYC boaters can reduce their risk of accidents by following these four simple safety recommendations

  • Taking a boating safety course. Take it upon yourself to enroll in a boater’s safety course that addresses the type of vehicle you will be operating, as well as the general rules and laws of New York State waters. If you do not have a boaters safety certificate, make sure to register for your eight hour course to obtain one was soon as possible. 
  • Wear your life jacket. Drowning was responsible for over 68 percent of boat accident fatalities between 2005 to 2018. Wear a life vest to prevent drowning accidents if a crash occurs where you are unable to swim. 
  •  File a float plan with a friend. Make sure you create a float plan that lists all the details of your trip. Give the float plan to a third party not on the boat who can check in or call for help in the case of an emergency. 
  • Don’t drink and drive a boat. If you are operating a vessel, stay sober. Don’t put others and yourself at risk by drinking and driving. 

NYC Boat Accident Attorneys

There is no excuse for reckless boating. All New Yorkers have a responsibility to reduce harm to others on the water by following set laws set to reduce accidents. 

If you have been injured in a boat accident, the law firm of Pazer, Epstein, Jaffe & Fein, P.C. is here to support you. For over 60 years, our winning attorneys have been fighting for the rights of New Yorkers wrongfully injured by the negligence of others.

Contact us using our convenient online form or feel free to phone us in New York at 212-227-1212, or in Huntington/Long Island at 631-864-2429.


“Gov. Cuomo signs Brianna’s Law in honor of LI girl killed in boat crash.” News 12 Long Island. (Received August, 2019)

Slattery, Denis. “Gov. Cuomo signs Brianna’s Law requiring boater safety courses and one-time test.” Daily News. (Received August, 2019)

“New York State Boater’s Guide.” New York State Office of Parks and Recreation Historic Preservation. (Received August, 2019)

“2018 Recreational Boating Report.” New York State Office of Parks and Recreation Historic Preservation. (Received August, 2019)