New York State Strengthens Public Vessel Safety Requirements

Governor Eliot Spitzer signed legislation on July 26 designed to dramatically increase public vessel safety throughout New York State. The law, proposed in response to the capsizing of the Ethan Allen on Lake George in 2005, updated vessel safety requirements that had not been revised in several decades to reflect current equipment and safety standards.

"The revisions made by the legislation signed today will help to ensure the safety of passengers and crew members while boating on state waters," Spitzer said yesterday. "New York's waterways are among the most beautiful in the world and those who board a public vessel to enjoy these natural resources should be able to do so safely."

The revisions made to the Navigation Law relate to public vessel design, inspection, crew staffing, and equipment. Under the new legislation:

  • Public vessels certified to carry more than 20 passengers are required to be equipped with a minimum of two functional and unobstructed means of egress from each deck
  • The operation of a public vessel with less than the required number of crew members as specified in the vessel's certificate of inspection or permit is prohibited
  • Public vessel owners must notify a marine inspector of proposed repairs or modifications to a vessel's structure or engineering plant, as well as any other modification that might impact a vessel's stability, seaworthiness, or safe operation, and operation of a vessel in contravention of an inspector's directive is prohibited
  • Public vessels certified to carry more than 10 passengers must be equipped with a very high frequency marine radio or operational cellular phone service, to enable the vessel to call for assistance, and vessels certified to carry more than 65 passengers must have radar.

The legislation also increases the penalties that may be imposed for violations of the Navigation Law. The Spitzer Administration proposed two additional bills related to public vessel safety this year. One required vessel owners to carry specified amounts of liability insurance coverage; the other mandated the administration of a chemical test to a vessel operator involved in a serious vessel accident.

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