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National Safe Boating Week Urges Caution On The Water

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National Safe Boating Week kicked off Saturday, and runs through the Memorial Day weekend.

With more than 900,000, Florida leads the nation in the number of registered vessels. The 10-day “week” is aimed at reminding those planning to spend time on the water this summer to do it safely. Part of that advice comes from Capt. Tom Shipp of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

“Pay attention to everything going on around and within your vessel,” says Shipp. “A lot of boating accidents occur from people, either hitting other vessels or objects. And if everyone would keep a proper lookout, we really think a lot of accidents could be prevented.”

According to Fish and Wildlife, there were 737 boating accidents in Florida waters last year, 103 more than in 2014. But, the number of fatalities actually dropped from 73 two years ago, to 55 in 2015.

Shipp says to make sure all life jackets are in good condition, and then put them on when on the water. Falling overboard is the leading cause of death in boating accidents. But life jackets are just one part of a vessel’s safety equipment.

“Your fire extinguisher, make sure that it’s fully charged,” Shipp says. “Look at your flares, if your vessel in the area you operate requires them. Make sure they haven’t expired. And also keep your vessel registered.”

Among the other do’s and don’ts on the water, Shipp says perhaps the biggest “don’t” – is don’t drink and boat. Under Florida law, the legal blood alcohol limit on the water is the same as on the highway – .08. Additionally, for those under age 21, the legal limit on the water is .02. Shipp says find a designated operator if you plan to imbibe on board.

Along with the 900,000+ boats in Florida, out-of-state boaters will also be coming into the state’s fresh- and saltwater areas. Shipp says they can all help FWC by paying attention to the “rules of the road,” and getting some training.

“If you’re operating a vessel of 10 horsepower or more, and you were born on or after January 1, 1988, you’re required to complete your boater education,” said Shipp.

Besides the required safety equipment, a couple of devices as-yet not mandatory could end up saving lives. One is an Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon, or a  Personal Locator Beacon.

“If you get into trouble, you can push the button and search and rescue personnel immediately know where you are,” Shipp said. “They can identify your location and get to your so much quicker, than if they wait until someone calls later in the day when you haven’t returned from a planned trip.”

Fish and Wildlife officers will be out in force on the water during the Memorial Day weekend. Capt. Tom Shipp says they’ll be making sure that boaters have the necessary gear and are not a danger to other boaters and to themselves. 

Dave came to WUWF in September, 2002, after 14 years as News Director at the Alabama Radio Network in Montgomery, Mobile and Birmingham and a total of 27 years in commercial radio. He's also served as Alabama Bureau Chief for United Press International, and a stringer for the Birmingham Post-Herald.