The case of Austin Stephanos and Perry Cohen, both 14, caused a great amount of controversy this summer when they disappeared after setting off in the ocean near the coast of Jupiter. Their 19-foot single-engine fishing boat was discovered capsized off the coast of Ponce Inlet, several days and more than 180 miles away from where the young men were last seen. Stephanos and Cohen have never been found.
The controversy illustrates concerns about boating safety in our state. One side of the debate, which raged on social media, maintains that experienced teens are as capable as adults of piloting their craft safety and securely. The other side points out that even experienced boaters might panic while at sea, far away from Coast Guard and any other boats, and in the middle of high waves and electrical storms.
During the summer, both sets of parents maintained that their sons were capable boaters who had been on the water from an early age. Their views, according to the Washington Post, were echoed by partisans on social media. One parent of teenage boaters, for example, wrote “My 15 year old has been boating alone and with buddies since he was 12. He is trained, certified, and has thousands of hours logged on the water. This is an accident that could have easily happened to adults. Engine trouble happens to everyone.”
Still, many others noted that the open ocean is different—more unpredictable and much larger—than the Intracoastal Waterway. Indeed, the parents of one of the boys said they were not allowed to take their boat on the open water. One observer told the Washington Post that if you think of the ocean as “the largest wilderness in the world,” it becomes clear that even trained teenagers may not have “experience with crisis” and it is inadvisable to be without supervision in it.