May 19, 2016
Although Florida's boating season never really ends, the traditional start is marked by National Safe Boating Week, May 21–27. The week is a time for boaters to focus on simple and effective steps that make boating safer. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) wants all boaters to remember to boat safely. As the boating capital of the world, Florida leads the nation with nearly 1 million registered vessels across the state and is known as a prime boating spot for residents and visitors. Each year, FWC officers respond to far too many tragic and preventable boating accidents.
“Florida is a great place to enjoy boating year-round,” said Maj. Richard Moore, leader of the FWC's Boating and Waterways Section. “And even more people will be out on the water for the upcoming Memorial Day weekend. Both the holiday and National Safe Boating Week, May 21–27, present an opportunity to emphasize the importance of remaining safe while boating.
“FWC officers are committed to keeping people as safe as possible, but we need the public's help,” Moore continued. “We want to reach out to as many boaters as we can, to help them understand that most boating accidents are preventable.”
The FWC reminds boaters to enjoy their time on the water 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.
According to the recently released FWC 2015 Boating Accident Statistical Report, there were 737 reportable boating accidents in Florida last year.
Many of those accidents could have been prevented if the boat operators had paid attention to everything going on around their vessel, maintained a proper lookout and if everyone had been wearing a life jacket. More than 64 percent of the 55 boating-related deaths confirmed 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 Moore. “However with the inflatable models that are belt packs or suspenders, you hardly know you have one on. Our officers wear inflatable life jackets all the time while on the water.”
An engine cut-off switch lanyard is a safety device that attaches 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 2015, 72 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 hp or greater.
“We live in a great boating state,” said Moore. “And we believe that safety truly is the key to enjoyment.”
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.
For a copy of the 2015 Boating Accident Statistical Report, visit MyFWC.com/Boating and select “Safety and Education” and “Boating Accidents.”