Stepfather of Missing Florida Teen Stresses Boys’ Boat Didn’t Have Emergency Radio

'There shouldn't be a boat out there that doesn't have a radio'
May 6, 2016 Updated: May 6, 2016

The stepfather of one of the Florida teens who disappeared at sea in July 2015 and were never found noted that the boat they were using had no emergency radio on board, People magazine reported on May 6. He stressed that it’s bizarre that all boats aren’t required to come with one.

Boats less than 65.6 feet in length are not required to have a VHF radio, which are used in emergencies. The boat that Austin Stephanos and Perry Cohen, both 14—steered from the Jupiter Inlet into the Atlantic Ocean—also didn’t come equipped with one.


“Even though it’s not required, we recommend that people purchase and carry a marine radio,” U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer 3rd Class Eric Woodall told People magazine.

Boating safety advocates say a VHF radio is the most important piece of equipment one can gave in case of an emergency.

“Our primary concern is the safety and well-being of everyone. Anyone traveling more than a few miles offshore should consider purchasing a marine radio and an EPIRB as well,” he said. An EPIRB is a emergency position-indicating radiobeacon, which can be activated manually or by coming into contact with enough water to suggest a vessel is sinking or taking in water. The signal may have helped the Coast Guard find Austin and Perry, family members say.

“That’s your first line of defense that works wherever you are, cell signal or no cell signal,” Perry’s mother, Pamela Cohen, was quoted by the magazine as saying.

“The legislation for boating is archaic,” Perry’s stepfather, Nicholas Korniloff, added. “There shouldn’t be a boat out there that doesn’t have a radio, a compass or a GPS, all of which are probably a third of the cost of an EPIRB or a personal locator beacon.”

Cohen and Korniloff have been embroiled in a legal battle since April 26 against the Stephanos family and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission (FWC), asking a judge to seize Austin’s cellphone that was recovered on the marooned boat in March. They argue that the iPhone could contain clues about the teens’ disappearance. And have given extensive interviews about the lawsuit, and about their grieving, for the past two weeks.

Since the boys’ disappearance, the Stephanos family has tried to get lawmakers to pass the Beacon Bill, which gives registration discounts to boaters to buy EPIRBs or PLBs for their vessels. The bill was approved by Gov. Rick Scott and will go into effect July 1.

The recovered boat will reach Port Everglades on May 16 and will be forensically analyzed. The boat was found with its ignition and battery switched off. They could find fingerprints, DNA, or other evidence to suggest whether the boys experienced mechanical trouble or fell victim to a violent storm.

“Once the boat comes back in we will look at the boat to the extent that we can,” FFWCC General Counsel Howard Vielhauer said on April 29.

“We have our own experts, people that we can call in ourselves to look at that boat and give their forensic analysis of it. They’re willing to do that,” Korniloff said. “But we don’t know if we’re even going to be able to have access to it.”

“If this was to remain an unsolved mystery, it would remain an unsolved mystery,” Cohen added. “But to have the actual boat that the boys were on and an iPhone that they were both using for communication to suddenly reappear 100 miles off the coast of Bermuda in international waters, there’s a reason. There are answers begging to be discovered.”

Florida Fish and Wildlife officials said the phone was “significantly and severely” deteriorated. However, the Stephanos family agreed to send it to Apple for a forensic analysis.

The cellphone, however, had been in saltwater for eight months. “When it goes into the water,” Mike Cobb, director of engineering at DriveSaver, told WBPF-TV. “It’s going to be starting the corrosion process immediately.”

But, “There is precedent for devices that have been severely damaged to recover if not all its information, some information,” he added.