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Florida Leads Country In Boating Accidents, Deaths

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Florida led the country in boating accidents in 2014, totaling 577. It also had the most boating deaths, totaling 67.

The number of boating accidents is roughly triple the amount that occurred in New York, 174, which came in second behind Florida. Texas was second in boating deaths with a total of 39.

Brad Stanley, public information officer for the North Central Region of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, attributed those numbers to the large number of boats registered in Florida.

There were 899,635 vessels registered in 2014, according to the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles.

“The more boats you have on the water, the more chances you have for an accident,” Stanley said.

But the data is not a reflection of all accidents occurring in Florida’s waterways.

federal regulation only requires boaters to report accidents that involve an injury beyond first aid, damage to vessels and property totaling over $2,000, complete loss of any vessel and death or a disappearance.

The 2014 Boating Accident Report, released by the U.S. Coast Guard, showed the top four causes of accidents in Florida in order: failure to pay attention, inexperienced boaters, distracted boaters and speeding.

To legally drive a boat, a Florida resident must have a boater’s safety education card, which can be earned by taking an approved course online or by booklet. Only people born after Jan. 1, 1988 must complete the course, according to the FWC.

“[The safety course] is not just for kids,” Stanley said. “It’s also good for adults that might not be experienced on the water.”

Lisa Almeida, CEO of Freedom Boat Club of Jacksonville and St. Augustine, said because of the age requirements for vessel licensing, there are still many boaters who have not taken a course.

Almeida has seen anchors breaking, people falling off their ships and people placing their children on the bow of the boat, where they could fall into the water and get caught in the propellers.

Maralyn Coscia, manager of Gulfstream Boat Club, said tourists who come to Florida to boat often don’t receive enough safety education.

Coscia, a former administrator of the test, said this means some boaters may not know how to read channel markers, how to react to other vessels or how to follow the laws of the water. Even after taking the test, some boaters know the information but are still not comfortable enough operating a boat.

She said a lot of people think boating is about drinking, partying and having a good time, so they don’t take boating safety seriously.

Coscia has seen individuals run into channel markers and capsize boats.

A recent Florida incident involving two teenage boys and their capsized boat demonstrates how quickly a good time on the water can go foul.

According to Almeida, boating laws are not as defined as traffic laws. Some people don’t take boating laws as seriously.

“Of course it’s different than when you’re driving a car,” Almeida said.

Almeida feels mandating the safety course for all boaters would make a big difference. She also advocates for stricter alcohol laws and a hands-on course.

To stay safe as boating season is in high gear, Almeida recommended boaters wear their life jackets, know where their safety equipment is and have their wits about them.

“Use your head,” she said.

Cosica has never been in an accident in 20 years of boating, but credits that to always knowing her surroundings and trusting the boater – either herself or someone else.

“Make sure you trust the person who is driving,” Coscia said. “Because your life is in their hands.”

About Susan Huang

Susan is a reporter for WUFT News who may be contacted by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news @wuft.org

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