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National Safe Boating Week: How You Can Help Reduce Boating Accidents in FL

boat safety

Boating accidents in Florida were up by almost 20 percent last year compared to 2014, according to a new state report showcasing a rising tide that awareness campaign National Safe Boating Week is designed to stem. This week's focus on marine safety is especially important, because with Memorial Day weekend coming in just a few days, boaters will want to stay safe while having a blast.

National Safe Boating Week began on May 21 and goes through May 27, just in time for Memorial Day weekend, the kickoff of the busiest time of year for the state's waterways. Amid all of that, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has released its report showing that there are more boat accidents than ever in Florida, even as deaths have gone down.

Florida saw 737 boating accidents in 2015, a sharp increase from 634 accidents in 2014, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Miami-Dade, Monroe, and Duval Counties suffered the most with 96, 78, and 57 accidents, respectively. However, in that time, the death toll dropped from 73 down to 55.

“Many of the accidents in this report could have been prevented...,” Captain Tom Shipp of the commission’s Boating and Waterways Section said in a prepared statement.

Here are some simple and effective steps to make your favorite summer recreational water activities safer.

Put On Your Jacket

A closer look at the FWC report reveals that falling overboard is the leading type of fatal accident, while drowning was the leading cause of death. The FWC says 87 percent of these victims were not wearing a personal floatation device.

The National Safe Boating Council released the Wear It! campaign in conjunction with National Boating Safety Week to promote the importance of using life jackets. The Council also stresses the importance of choosing the right fit, not to mention the right style: Jackets should bear U.S. Coast Guard-approved labels on their interior.

The FWC also suggests pairing the jacket with an emergency locator beacon, like a Personal AIS Beacon (PAB). The new device has gained Federal Communications Commission approval and is intended to be attached to the life vest. The PAB activates if the wearer has gone overboard or has encountered other emergencies.

Pay Attention to Your Surroundings

Nearly half of the accidents reported by the FWC involved collisions with other boats or objects, with 34 percent of all collisions resulting from inattention or due to the operator failing to maintain a proper lookout.

Boat operators should pay close attention to their vessel's surroundings at all times, whether they’ve embarked on a relaxing cruise or if they are hosting a party on their boat. Designating a sober boat operator, who's more likely to mind surroundings, can also help to reduce these types of boating accidents.

Take a Boating Safety Class

Just as there are rules to the road, there are rules that apply to Florida’s waterways. Yet 57 percent of boaters lacked proper boating education in 2015, according to the FWC.

Florida now requires that people born on or after January 1, 1988, must have a Boating Safety Education ID Card to legally operate a boat. After acquiring the card, make sure to keep up with any boating safety law changes.

Use a Cut-Off Switch Lanyard

The FWC encourages boaters to utilize an engine cut-off switch lanyard. This safety device attaches from the boat operator to the ignition and, if disconnected, it will shut down.

This potentially prevents a boater who has fallen overboard from being injured by the propeller of a runaway boat.

File a Float Plan

If you’re planning to go on a longer cruise, it is wise to file what is known as a "float plan." This document outlines a description of your boat, who is onboard, a list of safety equipment you are carrying, where you expect to go, and when you are due back.

This plan ought to be given to your marina, yacht club, or family and friends. Should an emergency arise, and you don't return within a reasonable time after your scheduled arrival, the Coast Guard and related safety agencies will use the float plan to locate you.

For more information on what to do if you end up involved in a boating accident, we're here to help. Whether you're in an accident on a lake, in a river, or at sea, our attorneys are here to help you navigate the complexities during what can be a frustrating or trying time.