The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is out with its 2017 Boating Accident Statistical Report, in time for National Safe Boating Week, which runs through Saturday.
Florida had 766 boating accidents last year, a seven percent rise from 2016, but there was no jump in fatalities -- 67 as with the previous year. Operator’s inattention was the leading cause of the 261 reported collisions among other accidents, and drowning was the most prevalent cause of death.
“That could mean failure to maintain a proper lookout; literally, not always looking where you’re going and being aware of your surroundings,” FWC spokesman Brian Reywinkle said. “Drowning is by far the leading cause of death in boating accidents; hitting the water unexpectedly if we don’t have something to keep us afloat.”
According to the report, 81 percent of the victims were not wearing a personal flotation device (PFD). That’s the focus of FWC’s Safe Boating Week campaign. Life jackets are no longer those bulky, hot and movement-restricting hunks of orange-covered foam. Fish and Wildlife is out with a campaign called “Wear It, Florida.”
“You have styles [that] they’re going to automatically deploy when you hit the water,” Reywinkle says. “You have belt packs – inflatable life jackets – some people say they look like a fanny pack. And they don’t get in the way of the things that you’re doing on the water.”
Other required safety equipment aboard a vessel include a marine radio; fire extinguisher, visual distress signal, and a sound-producing device – a bell, horn or whistle. Another vital tool is an engine cut-off switch lanyard.
“If you are thrown overboard, the engine is cut off, and that makes a big difference,” says Reywinkle. “One, the boat’s not going to go very far so you’ll have an opportunity to get back to the boat. Two, the boat is not going to circle around and potentially hit you if you’re in the water.”
Another “must have” on the water is an ELB, or Emergency Locator Beacon. Such a device can pinpoint your location in an emergency.
“The difference between knowing approximately where someone is – within a few hundred feet – and guessing for hundreds or even thousands of square miles – certainly can make the difference between someone being rescued and not being rescued.”
Those safety measures and gear fall into the “something you should do” category. The major “something you shouldn’t do” is drink and boat.
“If you’re out there enjoying fishing around Fort Pickens and [Pensacola] Pass on a beautiful day, the alcohol is not necessary to enjoy yourself,” said Reywinkle. “If someone is impaired that’s illegal, it’s dangerous, and certainly something that our officers, local marine patrol [and] Coast Guard take very seriously.”
Drunken boating carries the same rules as drunken driving. A .08 blood alcohol limit for adults. Additionally – and you won’t find this on the highway -- minors can be busted with a .02 reading.
Among the other numbers, the 2017 report also shows that two-thirds of boat operators involved in fatal accidents had no formal boating education. Florida law requires those born on or after January 1st, 1988 to enroll in such classes, if they operate a vessel of ten horsepower and up.
More information is available at www.MyFWC.com/Boating.