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Boro boaters should take precautions on water: State

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Adages of car safety like “Buckle up!” and “Don’t drink and drive” assumed new meaning last Thursday as state Parks Commissioner Bernadette Castro gave a hands-on lesson in a different type of transport – on the waterways.

Standing along the dock at Gantry Plaza State Park in Long Island City, Castro marked the start of Safe Boating Week by telling a crowd of elementary school students the most basic tenets of water safety.

“You’ve got to wear your life vest — it saves your life,” she instructed, imparting a rule that is as important to boating as buckling a seat belt is to riding in a car.

But the comparisons with the roadways did not stop there.

“We need a designated captain as badly as a designated driver,” Castro continued, warning that anyone who pilots a boat should not be consuming alcohol.

The state had its historically lowest level of boating fatalities in 2000, when only 17 people died in the waterways, compared to 25 last year. But 19 of those 25 people could have been saved had they been wearing a life jacket, according to statistics published in the state recreational boating report. Queens had no boating deaths and four injuries last year in its waterways, which include Jamaica Bay and the Long Island Sound.

Although Queens is surrounded by water in every direction but the east, the borough’s coastline has few public spots where recreational craft can launch into the water.

“Unfortunat­ely, there’s very little boat access in the New York metropolitan area,” said Brian Kempf, the senior marine service representative for the state office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation.

But its abundance turns the water into an ever-present temptation, even if most borough residents do not typically venture onto boats. Castro noted that Long Island has a more extensive coast than the entire length of California.

Castro said laws signed by Gov. George Pataki have toughened boating-while-intoxicated laws and lifejacket-wearing requirements, while mandating that operators of personal watercraft complete a safety course.

For the few dozen students from PS 78, which sits directly behind the riverfront park at the base of the Citylights building, the tenets of aquatic safety made an impression. They had help from catchy phrases like, “Boat smart from the start — wear your life jacket,” which they had to repeat in chorus.

They also got a chance to hang out with Snoopy, representing corporate sponsor MetLife, as well as Coastie, a furry tug-boat who is mascot for the U.S. Coast Guard — each outfitted in his own style of bright-orange life vest.

Gary Luzero, 11, said the demonstration taught him “what to do if one of us sunk.”

Estefan Neri, 11, acknowledged he never liked wearing his life vest when he went boating in North Carolina.

“I don’t usually wear a safety vest,” he said. “I think it makes you look stupid.”

But he had a change of heart after Castro demonstrated the latest style of life jacket, which looks at first like a sleek, tight-fitting black vest but suddenly inflates into a fat yellow buoy with the tug of a cord.

“The inflatable ones are awesome,” he said. “They just pop out in one second. You could save your life with that.”

Reach reporter Dustin Brown by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 154.

Posted 7:05 pm, October 10, 2011
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