Florida has the unfortunate distinction of having the highest number of boating accidents, injuries and deaths, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
Florida’s beautiful sunny weather and abundant waterways makes it an ideal year-round boating locale, contributing to boat traffic and the number of accidents on the water. Here in Jacksonville boating opportunites abound as we have the St. Johns River, numerous tributaries of the river, the Intracoastal Waterway, and, the ocean. In recent years, the Jacksonville area has seen numerous fatal boating accidents.
In response, the Florida Legislature passed a law in 1996 requiring all young boaters — those born after Sept. 30, 1980 — to carry a Florida Boating Satefy Education ID card. Boaters can get this card after successfully completing the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators’ (NASBLA) safety education course. Currently, any boater younger than 21 must take the state and NASBLA-approved boating course, send proof to the Florida Wildlife Commission and carry the card with them when operating a boat.
Although the number of boats on Florida’s waterways has greatly increased, the percentage of boating accidents (based on the number of accidents per 100,000 registered recreational vehicles) has decreased. Since Florida’s boating safety education law went into effect, boaters in the 0 to 21 and 22 to 35 age groups have shown a marked decrease in the number of accidents, according to Florida’s Boating Accident Statistical Reports.
However, fatalities due to boating accidents have increased at a much higher rate than the rate of growth in registered boats. Fatalities rose 76 percent between 2000 and 2005, while boat registrations increased only 15 percent during the same time. These accidents typically involve older adults (age 36 and older) who have more than 100 hours of boating experience, but lack formal boating safety education. These numbers show that boating experience alone does not prevent accidents.
To complete NASBLA’s online boating course, go to www.floridaboatingcourse.com.