Editorial: Tragedy can strike at any time on the water

05/24/2012 7:00 AM |

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | A view of Peonic Bay from Mattituck beach, near where Dominic Trinfo died Sunday.

A Middle Island family with a part-time North Fork residence experienced an unthinkable tragedy Sunday when 14-year-old Dominic Trionfo died in a Jet Ski accident on Peconic Bay.

It started out as a day of family togetherness on Dominic’s grandfather’s boat — a day Dominic had been looking forward to for a while.

The teen had taken the requisite safety classes and had finally earned a license to operate the personal water craft by himself.

Sunday was his first time solo on the bay. His more experienced big brother reportedly even drove the Jet Ski through marina traffic and out into open water so Dominic could have space to ride.

Despite these safety measures, Dominic was killed after getting too close to his family’s boat and striking its anchor line. His tragic death is a reminder that even when going above and beyond the appropriate precautions, the water can be a dangerous place — a place that can turn a dream day with family and friends into a living nightmare ­in just a matter of seconds.

This week also marks National Boater Safety Week, a campaign that includes free safety demonstrations and increased vessel checks to make sure boaters have the necessary safety items on board, like flares, life vests, VHF radios, working horns, fire extinguishers and other gear.

Safety should be every boater’s top concern, every day, out on the water.

For those looking to get into boating or who have never taken a safety class before, or maybe just want a refresher, the Peconic Bay Power Squadron — a unit of the United States Power Squadrons — is an invaluable resource. Certified Power Squadron instructors offer a wide variety of public safe boating courses. More information on the Power Squadron, which is celebrating its 100th anniversary, can be found at pbps.us.

In the meantime, here are some common-sense boating tips that even the most experienced boater could use as a reminder. One tragedy is one too many — and the season is just getting under way.

• Keep your head on a swivel. A boat’s captain should be aware of all vessels in the area — in front, behind and on both sides. And passengers should never bite their tongues when it comes to alerting the captain that another boat is near — even if the passenger is almost sure the captain sees it.

• Stay sober.

• Never make a sudden left or right movement without looking to see who’s coming up behind you. Boats are fast — some are really fast — and one could suddenly come up from behind and next to your vessel within moments.

• Always be mindful of divers. There aren’t a lot of divers in Long Island bays compared with other regions, so it’s easy to forget they’re there. Every so often one is killed after being struck by a boat. So keep a sharp lookout for dive flags. Other objects in the water, such as lobster pot floats and small trees marking clam beds can also be easily overlooked.

• Stay sober.

• Always be mindful of kayakers. They can be hard to spot, especially when they’re on the other side of a swell. So when passing through swells, take it slow, because it’s often impossible to see if there’s a kayak or canoe, another small boat or a personal watercraft on the other side. There’s little margin for error in such situations.

• Take it slow at night and don’t rely entirely on the GPS. Running aground or striking a buoy at top speeds can cause serious injuries — or worse.

• Stay sober.

As this weekend showed us, tragedy can strike even careful boaters. Thinking safety first is the only way to minimize the number of serious accidents that do occur on the water.