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New Bill Aims To Encourage Boating Safety

A new bill aims to protect lives by implementing boating safety measures in Florida after two 14-year-old boys went missing at sea a few months ago.

On July 24th, Perry Cohen and his friend Austin Stephanos went on a fishing trip and never came home.

State Sen. Joe Negron teamed up with state Rep. MaryLynn Magar, and Austin’s father, Blu Stephanos, to devise a bill that would offer a 25 percent discount on annual registration fees to boaters who purchase an emergency locator device known as a beacon.

“If Austin and Perry had had a locator on their boat, we would’ve been able to pinpoint them within a very short amount of time,” Magar said.

The boys did not have any means of communication, and they were too far out for their cell phones to work.

Magar said the bill has been filed with a senate sponsor, and she plans to present the bill sometime in late January to late February.

“Boating safety and preparation is something that we need to take seriously,” Magar said. “This bill attempts to bring attention to boating safety and encourage boaters to prepare before they set out.”

The locator device sends a signal to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Once NOAA receives the signal, it sends it out to the Coast Guard or other personnel. They can then locate where the signal came from, Magar said.

Florida is the No. 1 boating state, she added.

“You’ve (got to) think ‘OK, something could happen. I need to have a way to get in contact with people. I need my life vest on board,'" she explained.

Magar said the beacon will add a level of comfort to boaters and their loved ones.

Fisherman Paul Mockler of Ocala tries to go boating every weekend. He said even though the bill aims to reduce the cost of a beacon, he didn't feel the expense was necessary.

“I don’t go out far enough,” Mockler said. “I can get in trouble anywhere, but I don’t go off shore, so I’m usually always inside the land.”

Mockler said boating safety means having all your safety equipment, knowing where you are and always being alert to what’s around you. But Dr. Larry Yeung, a Gainesville resident who goes boating at least a few times a month, said he thinks having a beacon device while boating makes sense.

“I don’t know how much those devices cost, but to save your life, it’s worth it,” Yeung said.

John Blouse, a Charter Captain at Cedar Key Marina II, said the beacon needs to be registered every year.  He has been a captain for 11 years, and goes boating at least three to four times a week.

Blouse has his own beacon device but has never had to use it.

“Boating safety is the most important thing that captains focus on,” he noted.

Ariana is a reporter for WUFT News and can be contacted by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.