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FFWCC: 20 percent jump in boating fatalities in Florida last year

"I liken it to car crashes because, in my view after 25 years as an officer, inattention is probably a causal factor in the overwhelming majority of car crashes," says a former police officer who suffered head and neck injuries in a 2005 boating accident.

According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, either inattention or improper lookouts was the No. 1 cause of boating accidents in the state last year. That was followed by:

  • Operator inexperience
  • Excessive speed
  • Alcohol intoxication

Those were the cited causes in 400 "reportable" accidents that occurred last year. Reportable accidents are those involving a death or injuries requiring more than first aid; causing over $2,000 in property damage; or leaving someone missing and presumed dead.

As we discussed in our last post, the Coast Guard's 2016 Recreational Boating Statistics showed boating accidents in general, and fatal ones in particular, as rising dramatically over past years. There were 684 boating accidents in Florida last year, with 70 fatalities.

The Coast Guard found fatalities up nationwide, with a total of 701 last year. That represents a 12 percent increase in deaths nationwide, with essentially 10 percent of them occurring in Florida. Total accidents were up nationwide by 7.3 percent over 2015 numbers.

Statistics from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, which investigates boating accidents in Florida, are equally grim. Florida led the nation in boating fatalities in 2015, as well. The cause of death in 60 percent of those cases was drowning. 82 percent of those drowning victims were not wearing floatation devices.

Both state and national studies found that deaths in Florida boating accidents jumped by 20 percent last year despite an increase in overall boating accidents of just under 2 percent.

Last year, July saw the most reportable accidents -- 96 -- and the most fatalities -- eight -- of any month. Fish and Wildlife officers blame much of that on drunk boating, which they actively patrol.

What's the best advice for avoiding a potentially serious or deadly boating accident? According to the former police officer, "Pay attention and operate the vessel within your own safety limits. If you don't know how the boat handles, or boat regulations, lighting and buoys; if you don't know who gives way to whom and in what direction, get an education and stay within the limits of that."

Perhaps the best advice is to wear a life jacket, leave any complex piloting to an experienced operator, and take a Coast Guard Auxiliary boating safety course.

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