SEBASTIAN – Gov. Rick Scott has declared May 20-26 as Safe Boating Week in Florida, although the season never really ends in Indian River County.
Sebastian and Vero Beach residents are urged 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.
One of these renown areas is the Sebastian Inlet and the famous sandbar in the river where boaters park to enjoy the outdoors.
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.
“Boating year-round is just one of the things that makes Florida special,” said Maj. Rob Rowe, 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. The holiday and National Safe Boating Week, May 20-26, present an opportunity to emphasize the importance of remaining safe while boating.”
Rowe says officers are committed to keeping people as safe as possible, but they also need the public’s help.
“We want to reach as many boaters as we can, to help them understand that most boating accidents are preventable,” Rowe said.
Sebastian boaters should take 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 2016 Boating Accident Statistical Report indicates there were 714 reportable boating accidents in Florida last year, resulting in 67 fatalities. This represents a 3 percent decrease in the number of accidents, but a 22 percent increase in deaths as compared to 2015.
The leading cause attributed to boating accidents in 2016 was the operator’s inattention or lack of a proper lookout (29 percent). Falls overboard have been the leading type of fatal accident since 2003, with drowning as the leading cause of death.
Many of these accidents in Vero Beach and Sebastian 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 on board had been wearing a life jacket. Sixty 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. “However, with the inflatable models that are belt packs or suspenders, you hardly know you have one on. FWC officers wear inflatable life jackets all the time while on the water.”
For National Safe Boating Week, the FWC is releasing 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 2016, 70 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 Rowe. “And we believe that safety truly is the key to enjoyment.”
FWC officers patrol our waterways to keep all boaters safe by checking that they have the required equipment and are operating safely. You can see officers regularly patrolling the sandbar near the Sebastian Inlet and in Vero Beach.
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.