License to Live

Boating is a wonderful way for Florida’s visitors and residents to enjoy the great outdoors. With thousands of miles of coastline and tropical weather year-round, Florida’s numerous waterways provide the ultimate boater’s paradise. With over 1 million registered boats in 2008, it is easy to see why we live in the fishing and boating capital of the world. With this many vessels in operation, it’s staggering to see how many boaters lack the skills that are required to properly navigate their vessel. If you don’t think this is the case then scope out your local fuel dock on a Saturday afternoon. You’ll soon be aware of the fact that a large majority of those on the water lack even the most basic seamanship skills. Add in the fact that many non-angling enthusiasts believe boating is an excuse to have a few cocktails, and the potential for accidents increases exponentially.


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Safe boating starts at a young age. As an adult it’s important you set a good example every time you hit the water. Photo: USCG

Under current regulation, Florida law requires all persons who are 21-years of age or younger to carry proof of completion of a boating safety course when operating a vessel with 10 horsepower or more. Since this law was implemented in 1996, the number of boating accidents involving the affected age has decreased dramatically. While this is definitely a step in the right direction, the problem may not rest solely on today’s youth.

All of the dangers that are associated with drinking and driving an automobile are compounded when operating a vessel.

In 2008, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, there were 657 reported boating accidents in Florida. Of these 657 occurrences, only 13% involved operators that were 21-years of age or younger. According to FWC statistics the boat operator most likely to be involved in an accident is a middle-aged or older male with years of boating experience, yet no formal boater education. A mind-numbing 57% of all boating accidents that occurred in Florida in 2008 involved operators over 36-years of age. In addition, of all operators that were involved in boating accidents in 2008, a staggering 73% had no formal boating education.

While these statistics are direct proof that the requirement of a safe boating license is, in fact, beneficial in educating the public and reducing on-the-water accidents, it makes no sense as to why only those who are under the age of 22 are required to posses a safe boater ID when operating a vessel. Since statistics have proven that safe boating education courses are effective at reducing the number of on-the-water accidents, why not require those with the highest probability of being in an accident to obtain a safe boating ID card, too?

With the proof in the pudding, the FWC has proposed the modification of the law requiring operators who are 21-years or younger to have a boater ID card to anyone born on or after January 1, 1988. If passed, this legislation will take effect January 1, 2010. In addition, the Florida Boating Advisory Council has recommended that the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission pursue legislation requiring boat operators of all ages to take an education course through a 3 to 5-year phase-in process.

Unfortunately, drinking has been a way of life for boaters since the days of Davey Jones and Blackbeard, so it’s no surprise that alcohol is the number one cause of fatal boating accidents. All of the dangers that are associated with drinking and driving an automobile are compounded when operating a vessel. The effects of the sun, heat, water and motion make the excessive consumption of alcohol and operating a vessel two ingredients you NEVER want to mix!

Because boating is such a relaxing and great way to have fun and bring family and friends together, it’s extremely difficult to read about tragic boating accidents in newspaper headlines. It takes an individual with a lot of courage to make the commitment to complete a safe boating education class. Start today by enrolling in a Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and National Association of State Boating Law Administrators (NASBLA) approved safe boating education class. Not only will you get an increased knowledge base of boating safety, many boat insurance providers offer discounts for completing a boater education course.

Safe Boating Tips

  • Obtain a Florida Safe Boating License.
  • Always wear a life jacket.
  • Check the marine weather forecast and constantly survey the sky for telltale signs of impending weather changes.
  • Monitor VHF channel 16 for emergency traffic, urgent marine information broadcasts and marine assistance request broadcasts.
  • Get a Vessel Safety Check from the Coast Guard Auxiliary to make sure you have all the required safety equipment onboard.

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