May 04, 2023
By Blair Wickstrom
Watching the Sea Tow Foundation’s Sober Skipper PSA featuring young friends partying and having a good time and then driving their boat straight into another boat made me stop and think for a moment.
A moment, like when I was in high school, leaving my driver’s education class having just watched an hour of mangled vehicles and bodies only to race out of the school parking lot in a car crammed full of classmates.
It’s possible that all it takes is a moment to scare people with actors and gruesome stock videos to get them to take the message to heart. To change behavior. But, in the age of scroll, I’m not sure.
What got me to stop for more than a moment wasn’t a video but a newspaper article about a boating accident in my home waters. It involved a family I knew of and a shortcut I take regularly in my own boat.
A Palm City man, the age of my oldest daughter, was driving a 26-foot center console when he ran into an unlit channel marker, tossing five people overboard, killing his wife and their friends' 20-month-old daughter.
“My lifelong boating experience failed me, and a tragic accident occurred,” the Stuart News reported Kyle Barrett, the driver of the boat, saying.
“Being such an experienced boater was probably part of the problem,” Barrett’s attorney Bob Watson told me. Implying that his familiarity with the waters most likely led to him taking over the helm that night with a false sense of self-assurance.
Two families will never be the same.
In November 2022, Kyle Barrett was sentenced to four years in prison, followed by six years of probation for vessel homicide.
“Boating under the influence (BUI) is something we put a lot of effort into,” said Brian Rehwinkel, FWC Division of Law Enforcement. Enforcement is an ongoing effort, Rehwinkel told me. Unfortunately, after looking at the last 10 years of boating fatalities in Florida, not much has changed.
According to the data compiled within the FWC’s annual Boating Accident Statistical Reports, we can estimate that 70 people are going to die each year in a boating-related accident. Alcohol, in about 20% of the cases, is the number one contributing factor. And unlike the Sober Skipper PSA video showing 20-something-year-olds drinking alcohol and doing backflips off their boats, the person most likely to die in a Florida boating fatality is male (88%) and older than 36 (71%).
The 70 people likely to die this year are people like you and me. Middle-aged males. The readers of this magazine.
Gail Kulp, Executive Director of the Sea Tow Foundation, which launched the Sober Skipper campaign in 2015, expressed the same sentiments. “We’re targeting men the ages of 26 to 55 with our messaging.”
To date, over 130,000 people have taken the Sober Skipper Pledge, by which boaters agree to:
- Safely operate any boat, no matter the size, without consuming alcohol or drugs.
- Be responsible for your boat and all of your passengers.
- Designate a sober skipper for every boating trip.
Rehwinkel said the FWC supports the Sober Skipper campaign as well as Operation Dry Water, a year-round boating under the influence awareness and enforcement campaign.
“We want folks to get out on the water and enjoy boating. However, operating a boat while impaired is dangerous and illegal. Our officers have a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to impaired boat operators,” Rehwinkel said.
So, before you pop a beer and get behind the helm, think about those family members you love. Their lives, and yours, could change in an instant. FS
CALL TO ACTION
AGREE TO DESIGNATE A SOBER SKIPPER FOR EVERY BOATING TRIP.
GO TO THE SEA TOW FOUNDATION WEBPAGE
AND TAKE THE SOBER SKIPPER PLEDGE TODAY!
Published Florida Sportsman Magazine May 2023