Published in the Asbury Park Press 07/1/05
A. SCOTT FERGUSON
Ask Harry Vliet the biggest boating problem he faces every summer, and
the veteran State Police lieutenant sums it up in one word:
Vliet, assistant chief for
the State Police Marine Services Bureau, has been dealing with boaters'
problems for more than six years along New Jersey's waterways.
All other problems, from
operating drunk to accidents, stem from inexperience, Vliet said.
"Our biggest concern is
people who don't have the experience and knowledge to operate vessels
properly," Vliet said as the bureau and the Coast Guard prepare for
prime boating season, which starts July Fourth weekend. "That's our
biggest problem: people who don't know the rules and don't have the
Vliet prefers that boat
owners overcome inexperience in the classroom rather than on the water,
and the State Police, Coast Guard and various boating organizations all
urge boaters to take safety courses and to keep up on the largest
changes to the laws.
Operators of boats or
personal watercraft must be 16 or older. State law requires boaters
operating power vessels, including personal watercraft, to obtain boat
If that does not work, State
Police and Coast Guard crews will stop unsafe operators in the water.
Most times, warnings suffice. Other times, authorities issue summonses.
Earlier this year, the State
Police and Coast Guard formalized an agreement that allows greater
cooperation to enforce boating laws. The two organizations also signed
agreements related to homeland security.
So far, the agreement has
paid some dividends.
While statistics aren't up to
date, Vliet said his troopers have seen a slight increase in the number
of drunken-boating arrests made so far this year.
As with driving, the legal
limit for boaters is a blood alcohol content of 0.08.
The Coast Guard has cited
nine people for drunken boating along the Jersey coast so far this year.
In 2004, they issued four summonses for the whole year.
"Our biggest goal is to educate the general boating public," said Steve McDonnell, who recently became the commanding officer for the Coast Guard's operations in the Manasquan Inlet and Shark River. "Personally, I think strong relations with the State Police and other local law enforcement can lead to a successful season and allow us to continue our other missions, including search and rescue."
Personal watercraft pose
major safety problems, and the Monmouth-Ocean counties area has seen
several high-profile accidents in recent years.
"We've seen a lot more volume
on the waterways," in part because of the small boats, Vliet said.
In 2003, Stephen Praschak, a
deputy chief of detectives for the Essex County Prosecutor's Office, was
injured when he was hit by a watercraft. A 15-year-old was eventually
charged with aggravated assault.
In 2002, Alton Ara Hovnanian,
15, of Middletown was killed when his personal watercraft slammed into
the side of a sailboat moored on the Navesink River. In that same year,
Richard C. Gallagher, 19, of Berkeley was killed when his personal
watercraft collided with a speedboat.
Melissa Danko, the executive
director of the Marine Trades Association of New Jersey, which has its
main office in Brick, said her group has backed bills introduced in the
Assembly and state Senate that would mandate safety education for
boaters, including personal watercraft operators.
Also, Danko said her group tries to reach out to customers at trade shows and other events to promote boating safety.
Boaters offer ideas
On a recent day at the
William Donovan Municipal Marina in Manasquan — sometimes known as the
Glimmer Glass marina — Bob Grunder stored his fishing poles away on his
For law enforcement, Grunder
is the best example of the responsible boater.
Each year, Grunder has his
boat inspected by the Coast Guard Auxiliary. He has taken safety courses
and has been boating for more than 30 years.
For the most part, said
Grunder, who lives in Manasquan and describes himself as an avid striped
bass fisherman, the Coast Guard and State Police do a good job
patrolling the area.
However, Grunder would like
to see more enforcement at the Manasquan Inlet, where he said large
fishing and party boats create wakes and create a danger for smaller
vessels like his.
"It would be nice if
everybody behaved as they should," Grunder said.
Not far away, Tom Cusmano got
his grandfather's boat ready for a day of early morning fishing. Like
other local boat owners, Cusmano prefers to fish on weekdays.
"It's too crowded during the
weekend, but I'm privileged enough to work in a bar, so my days are
free," Cusmano, 24, said. "When you do go out, you have to keep your
eyes open all the time."
Crowding in New Jersey's
waterways, especially in summer, remains a public safety concern, said
McDonnell of the Coast Guard.
"You have a lot of congestion, and that makes a big difference," said McDonnell, who recently was transferred to New Jersey from southern Florida. "Boats don't have brakes, so you're committed to a certain speed, and when you introduce alcohol as a factor, there's a risk. We have to be alert, and so does the public for these risks, and then we can make sure everyone has a good day."