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Long Island Traffic Lawyer: Rules for the Roadways and the Waterways

It’s that time of year again where people start getting their boats ready to go out on the water. Summer is a fun time of the year, and one of the best ways to spend it is out on the water. But a lot of people think that taking a boat out on the water will subject them to less rules than when they take a car out on the road – this is wrong! Many of the same rules apply on the waterways that apply on the roadways, including speeding laws, unlicensed operation laws, drug and alcohol laws, and reckless operation laws.

Speeding
Everyone thinks of speed limits on roads and highways, but did you know that speeding laws can be even stricter on the water? For example, no wake zones impose a 5 mph speed limit on all boats – these usually are in place in areas such as canals where the passageway is narrow and the wake caused by boats can send other boats careening into the walls. The 5 mph speed limit also applies to 100-200ft off the shore, docks, pier, rafts, floats, and anchored boats. There are also 45 mph and 25 mph speed limits in Long Island waters for the daytime and nighttime. Some local municipalities have their own speed limits and if there are no speed limits posted, boaters must operate in a manner that does not endanger other boaters. Boaters are also responsible for any damage caused by their wakes. Just like on the roads and highways, boaters can receive speeding tickets from the Coast Guard or Bay Constables if they violate the speeding laws.

Unlicensed Operation
On Long Island, drivers must possess a driver’s license or a permit in order to operate an automobile. The rule is almost the same on Long Island for boats: all individuals born after 5/1/1996 must successfully complete an approved course in boater education in order to operate a boat. After completing the safety course, boaters will receive a boating safety certificate that they must have anytime they operate a boat. New York has made this a little bit easier on boaters as they can now have the safety certificate displayed on their driver’s license or state issued ID as an anchor icon. If convicted of operating a boat without a safety certificate, boaters can be fined anywhere from $100 to $250 for the first offense and, while not likely, can face jail time of no more than 7 days. The fines and penalties increase for subsequent offenses. Driving a motor vehicle on Long Island without a license can result in a misdemeanor charge if convicted and can also bring about heavy fines and penalties.

DWI / BWI
Just the same as DWI laws, Long Island has BWI laws – Boating While Intoxicated. Most of the same rules apply to BWI as DWI – boaters cannot have a Blood Alcohol Level higher than .08, and if convicted, boaters can be subject to heavy fines, penalties, and even the possibility of jail time. A person can also lose their boat operating privileges if convicted of BWI, though they will not lose their driving privileges. Marine officers making a BWI stop often use the same tactics and equipment to make as they would in a DWI stop, including a field sobriety test and a chemical test. If a boater refuses a chemical test, their boating privileges can be immediately suspended pending a hearing regarding the refusal. This is the same thing for drivers, as they must attend a Refusal Hearing if they do not submit to a chemical test administered by a police officer. New York has an “Implied Consent” law, which means that drivers and boaters alike give up their right to refuse a chemical test by getting behind the wheel of a car or a boat. BWI convictions range from misdemeanors to felonies for repeat offenders and could end up costing thousands of dollars in fines and fees.

Reckless Operation
A reckless driving conviction on Long Island can have a huge, negative impact. Besides heavy fines, a penalty of 5 points on your license, and the possibility of losing your driver’s license, a reckless driving conviction will also give you a criminal record because it is a misdemeanor offense. The same is true for the boating equivalent – reckless operation. Reckless operation covers a lot of different boating violations, including speeding in a crowded area, operating too close to swimmers or dams, overloading a boat, riding the wake in a dangerous area, and disrupting regattas or parades. Just like in a motor vehicle, reckless operation can have dangerous consequences for boaters and their passengers, so please obey all rules of the water.

Boating and driving may seem like two very different activities, but they share a lot of similarities when it comes to the types of offenses that can lead to heavy fines, suspended licenses, and even possibly criminal charges.