Children as young as 12 can operate boats legally in Connecticut unsupervised as long as they complete an 8-hour boating safety course and pass a multiple choice test — something one state lawmaker wants to re-examine in the wake of a boating accident that left one teenager dead and another injured.
State Rep. Stephen Dargan, a Democrat from West Haven and co-chairman of the legislature’s Public Safety Committee, told The Hartford Courant he was troubled to learn that minors as young as 12 can operate a boat under state law without adult supervision.
"It certainly got my attention," he told the Courant. "That is somewhat of a young age for somebody using a lot of horsepower."
Dargan, who was elected in 1990, said he remembers that the legislature toughened Connecticut's teen driving laws several years ago because of the number of accidents that involved teenagers. He said he wouldn't be opposed to re-examining the legal boating age.
"I remember voting on those [driving laws] because of some of the horrific tragedies," Dargan said. "We might have to look at the further correction of what we do with boating licenses in the state.”
Many expressed surprise or concern last week after an accident that involved four teenage girls who were boating and tubing. According to police, four Greenwich teenage girls, all 15 or 16 years of age, were operating a 21-foot powerboat with a 200-hp engine on Long Island Sound unsupervised by adults.
Two of the girls were in the boat towing the other two on an inflatable tube. The two girls in the tube fell out, police say, and after the girl operating the boat turned around to pick them up, the boat's propeller hit the girls in the water.
Emily Fedorko, 16, died at the scene from her injuries, and an unidentified 15-year old girl was taken to Stamford Hospital for a leg injury that "required extensive stitching."
Republican state Sen. Len Fasano, who represents North Haven, East Haven and Wallingford, said his children got their safe boating certificates around the age of 12 or 13 and said he doesn't think there's anything the state can do legislatively to prevent accidents such as the one that occurred in Greenwich.
"What happened in Greenwich is a horrible, horrible accident,” he said. “But it's just that, an accident. I don't think what happened is a result of someone not knowing how to run a boat."