N.Y. Governor Proposes Tougher Tour Boat Safety Laws

March 7, 2006

New York Gov. George Pataki has proposed legisaltion requiring stricter safety and insurance requirements for commercial passenger boats on the state’s waterways.

The legislation mirrors proposals the governor made in the fall after the 40-foot Ethan Allen tour boat capsized and sank on Lake George in the Adirondacks. The accident killed 20 elderly tourists, 19 of them from Michigan.

The bills would require operators of commercial boats involved in accidents where passengers are severely injured or killed to undergo mandatory tests for drug and alcohol use.

Pataki also wants to require a minimum level of marine insurance for all public vessels operating on state waters, based on the number of passengers the boat can carry. That proposal comes amid questions over the Ethan Allen’s insurance coverage.

Jim Quirk, whose company owns the Ethan Allen, said recently that he thought the boat’s $2 million policy covered marine accidents. But the insurance company, Global Property Owners Association, said the Ethan Allen was insured only for accidents on land, leaving the families of the victims stuck with the funeral and medical bills.

Pataki would require all vessels certified to carry 20 or more passengers be equipped with at least two means of exit on each deck, among other things.

The governor, following the Oct. 2 accident, said the state would immediately impose a weight standard of 174 pounds per passenger when calculating capacity for tour boats operating on state regulated waterways such as landlocked lakes. The state had used the Coast Guard’s 1960 standard of 140 pounds per passenger. The Coast Guard is studying raising its guideline to 174 pounds.

Federal safety investigators are continuing to try to determine what caused the Ethan Allen to overturn. Their final report won’t be released until later this year.

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