Matthew Devlin, 35, of Catskill, NY, pleaded guilty in August. Devlin admitted that he violated company policy by being on the phone and a laptop computer for about an hour leading up to the crash dealing with a medical emergency involving his young son.
U.S. District Court Judge Legrome D. Davis heard more than three hours of emotional testimony, including video segments from the parents of Hungarian tourists Dora Schwendtner, 16, and Szabolcs "Szeb" Prem, 20, and Devlin and his wife.
"I live every single day with this in my mind, in my heart. I look at my children and couldn't imagine not having them around," Devlin told the judge. "To the family of the [students], I am so sorry."
In handing down the sentence, Davis noted the need to send a message to other operators about the dangers of being distracted.
"You're pushing a barge down the river that's almost the size of a football field. Very few people are entrusted with that responsibility. It's fair for us as a society to expect them to do their job," Davis said.
In addition to not asking for relief, using his phone and the laptop, and operating from the lower wheelhouse where he had reduced visibility, Devlin also turned down the radios, which Davis considered most egregious.
"If you hadn't done that you wouldn't be here," Davis said. "Everybody knew this was happening but you."
Devlin will report to jail Jan. 5. Once released, he will serve three years of supervised release. He has also permanently forfeited in his mariner's license.