The father of one of the two Florida teenagers who made national news after disappearing at sea in July has announced his support for a bill aimed at preventing similar incidents. Blu Stephanos, dad to 14-year-old Austin, backed legislation Wednesday that would give discounts on boat licenses to applicants who install satellite tracking devices on board. The proposal is sponsored by state Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, and Rep. Mary Lynn Magar, R-Tequesta, according to the Tampa Bay Times.
“You have to realize at this point, you know, I’m never going to have closure,” the Palm Beach Post reported Blu Stephanos said at a news conference. “I’m not going to have my son back. How do you deal with that? You’ve got to do something.”
Friends Austin Stephanos and Perry Cohen went missing July 24 after setting out on a fishing trip to the Loxahatchee River and Intracoastal Waterway. The boys grew up around the water and were experienced with boats, but their parents couldn't contact them after a storm came through that day. Their families and the Coast Guard undertook a massive search -- including 50,000 nautical square miles -- but didn't find the pair. Both searches had been called off by mid-August, International Business Times previously reported.
Under Florida law, Austin and Perry were authorized to operate a boat after taking a safety course. But Blu Stephanos' foundation in memory of his son works toward protecting boaters even more. Negron told the Tampa Bay Times the bill -- which would cost about $5 million -- could do that.
"We know that if a person has a locator device on their person or a boat as a locator device on the boat, then it dramatically improves safety and increases the likelihood that a boater in distress will be found alive,'' Negron said. "I think ultimately this will save money for Florida because these rescue operations are extraordinarily expensive. And obviously, we can't put a value on human life."
Their proposal wasn't the first to emerge from the Austin and Perry case. State Sen. Jeremy Ring, D-Broward County, created a bill that would prohibit anyone under 16 from operating a watercraft alone, the Vero Beach Press Journal reported.