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'Wear It Florida' Emphasizes Life Jacket Use

Photo via Flickr// Kim

As the spring and summer boating seasons in Florida get underway, the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is kicking off the “Wear It Florida” campaign, to encourage more use of personal floatation devices, i.e. life jackets.

The numbers show Florida is the “Boating Capital of the World,” with nearly one million registered vessels from Pensacola to Key Wes. Plus all the visitors who bring their boats.  According to FWC’s 2014 Boating Accident Statistical Report, there were 634 reportable boating accidents in Florida last year, resulting in 73 fatalities.

Lt. Seth Wagner with FWC says personal flotation devices (life jackets) are mandatory for children age six years and under. But in two recent boating accidents, where both adults and children ended up in the water PFDs were available but not used.

“If you don’t have it on, it’s not going to do you a lot of good when you fall in the water,” said Wagner. “Even if you’re one of the best swimmers around, when you’re in that stressed environment, in the shock and panic, you may not swim so well if at all.”

Today’s life preservers are the result of advances in technology and design. They’re now lighter, more comfortable, and less expensive.

Carrying PFDs is among the many simple, yet effective, steps that boaters are urged to take to make being on the water safer. That, and making sure they have the required on-board safety equipment, such as fire extinguishers and a horn or other sound-producing device, and perhaps a floating GPS device.

Boaters also need to know their vessel; go slow when in doubt of the situation, and don’t drink and boat. Wagner says have a good time, but be smart about it.

“If you’re one of those that you just need your alcohol when you’re out on the water to have a good time, designate somebody that’s going to be the operator for the day who won’t drink,” Wagner said.

Boating under the influence laws in Florida are virtually identical to driving under the influence on the highway. And as on the road, a BUI conviction carries some severe penalties, including prison, fines, court costs, a criminal record, and losing your vessel.

The one key difference between drunk driving and boating is that on the water, the legal blood-alcohol limit for boaters under the age of 21 is .02. 

Another suggestion from FWC is taking a boating safety course. Those born after January 1st, 1988, must have a Boating Safety Education ID Card to legally operate a boat in Florida. Wagner adds that even the most experienced boater can pick up a few pointers from the course, and save some money to boot.

“If you’ve got a certified boating safety course [certificate], a lot of insurance companies will give you a discount,” said Wagner. “So there’s also a monetary incentive there.”

For a copy of the 2014 Boating Accident Statistical Report, go HERE.