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With boat usage up, Greenport officials hope to raise awareness of safety

Summer approaching on the North Fork means traffic jams are back.

But this year, an influx of new boat owners has prompted some Greenport Village officials to call for safe boating awareness ahead of Memorial Day weekend.

“[During the pandemic,] more people have purchased boats,” said Greenport Village trustee Mary Bess Phillips at a work session Thursday. “Some of them don’t know the rules of the road.”

Ms. Phillips called for posting additional “no-wake” zone signs in the vicinity of Mitchell Park around the transient docks to help slow boaters down.

She also asked the village to work with bay constables in both Southold and Shelter Island towns on patrolling village waters and noted that the U.S. Coast Guard maintains a regular presence in the village on summer evenings to specifically look out for intoxicated boaters. “I’m concerned that one of these days, something’s going to happen and I don’t want it to be in village waters,” Ms. Phillips said.

Mayor George Hubbard Jr. said he’d confer with Southold town, which employs three bay constables.

“We can talk to [police Chief Martin Flatley] and see if he can beef up the patrols around the village, if possible,” Mr. Hubbard said, cautioning that the bay constables have a lot of area to cover between Laurel and Orient in both the bay and Long Island Sound.

“They do spend some time in Greenport when they’re down this way but to have someone there all the time…is going to be difficult,” the mayor said.

Past attempts to hire their own bay constable have been unsuccessful, according to Mr. Hubbard. “Nobody’s really interested in it and they all want to be paid cop salaries at $150,000 a year to patrol the harbor on weekends. That’s been the issue that we’ve had,” Mr. Hubbard said, adding that the village also must follow civil service procedures to ensure the operator is a peace officer.

According to data from the U.S. Coast Guard, more than 415,000 Americans purchased their first boats in 2020. Ahead of the boating season, the Coast Guard-funded Water Sports Foundation issued tips for safe boating that include taking a boating safety education course, using life jackets, never drinking and boating, watching the weather, paying attention to your surroundings and following posted speed limits and no-wake zones.