Although Florida’s boating season never really ends, the traditional start is marked by National Safe Boating Week – a time for boaters to focus on simple and effective steps that make boating safer. Leading the nation with nearly 1 million registered vessels across the state, Florida is the boating capital of the world and is world-renowned as a prime boating spot for residents and visitors. Each year, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) officers respond to far too many tragic and preventable boating accidents, so they want all boaters to remember to boat safely.
“Florida is an incredible boating destination,” said Maj. Rob Rowe, leader of the FWC’s Boating and Waterways Section. “The upcoming Memorial Day holiday and National Safe Boating Week, May 19-25, present an opportunity to emphasize the importance of remaining safe while boating.
“Our officers are committed to keeping people as safe as possible, but we need the public’s help,” Rowe said. “We want to reach as many boaters as we can to help them understand that most boating accidents are preventable.”
Boaters can enjoy their time on the water even more by taking a few safety precautions such as wearing a life jacket, using an engine cut-off switch lanyard, designating a sober boat operator, paying attention and keeping a proper lookout, having an emergency locator beacon, filing a float plan, and taking a boating safety class.
The FWC’s 2017 Boating Accident Statistical Report indicates there were 766 reportable boating accidents in Florida last year, resulting in 67 fatalities. This represents a 7 percent increase in the number of accidents, but the same number of fatalities as compared to 2016. The leading cause attributed to boating accidents in 2017 was the operator’s inattention or lack of a proper lookout (24 percent). Falls overboard has been the leading type of fatal accident since 2003, with drowning as the leading cause of death.
Accidents can often be prevented if boat operators pay attention to everything going on around their vessel, maintain a proper lookout and if everyone on board is wearing a life jacket. Fifty-two percent of boating-related deaths last year were attributed to drowning, which life jackets are designed to prevent.
“A lot of people say they don’t wear life jackets because they are uncomfortable,” said Rowe. “But with newer inflatable models that are belt packs or suspenders, you hardly know you’re wearing one. FWC officers wear inflatable life jackets all the time while on the water.”
The FWC has released compelling life jacket testimonials from three north Florida families whose lives have been changed by wearing – or not wearing – a life jacket when things went wrong on the water. These dramatic accounts provide vital information and a call to action for every boater to enjoy Florida’s beautiful waters safely while wearing a life jacket.
An engine cut-off switch lanyard is a safety device that is attached from the boat operator to the ignition. If it is disconnected, the engine will shut down, potentially preventing a boater who has fallen overboard from being injured by the moving propeller of a runaway boat.
Boating education is critical. In 2017, 67 percent of boat operators involved in fatal accidents had no formal boater education. Florida’s current boating safety education law applies to boaters born on or after Jan. 1, 1988, and who operate a vessel of 10 horsepower or greater.
“Safe boating is really the key to enjoying your time on the water, and education is a major component.” said Rowe. “2018 marks the year that if a boater is age 30 or younger, they are required to have a boating safety education card in order to operate a vessel of 10 horsepower or greater.”
FWC officers patrol our waterways in an effort to keep all boaters safe by checking that they have the required equipment and are operating safely. Ensure your encounters with FWC officers are positive ones by planning ahead and paying attention while on the water.
To report people who are operating boats dangerously, call 888-404-FWCC (3922) or text Tip@MyFWC.com. More information can be found by visiting MyFWC.com/Boating. You can even search there for the Florida Public Boat Ramp Finder to help you find a great place to launch your boat.