Officials urge safety as boating season revs up

FWC, local agencies to increase patrols as summer approaches

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The first official day of summer is exactly one month away and starting this weekend, Northeast Florida residents will notice more officers patrolling the waters.

State and local agencies in both Florida and Georgia are urging boaters to wear life vests and make sure their vessels are checked out before going out on the water.

Less than a month ago, three men died and a fourth was injured after their boat capsized on the Brunswick River. Officers said the only survivor was wearing a life jacket.

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission officers are expecting more boaters to be out as the summer season kicks off, and they will be monitoring high-traffic areas.

FWC Officer Roland Green keeps an eye out for any dangers that boaters could be face on the water.

“In the summer, we have a lot of boating sports that are going on, jet skiing, water skiing, it’s just that people aren’t wearing life jackets,” Green said.

As people rev up their engines to enjoy some time out on Florida’s waterways, law enforcement agencies and FWC officers are teaming up to prevent boating accidents.

“A lot of people aren’t prepared with all their safety equipment,” said Officer Pete Goody, with the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office Marine Unit. “The people that we stop when we check them for their life jackets, fire extinguishers, sound producing device flares, all the safety equipment they are supposed to have, a lot of times it will take them a long time to find them.”

Officers said people are less-inclined to wear the traditional, orange life vests because they are bulky, but skinnier life vests, like ones worn by law enforcement, are a great alternative because they inflate as soon as the person hits the water.

FWC officers demonstrated how easy the life vests work if someone goes overboard.

Statistics show Duval County ranks in the top 10 counties in Florida with boating accidents. In 2015, there were 19 accidents and two deaths.

“I have yet to pull anyone out of the water that was wearing a life jacket that died,” Goody said. “All of the people that we pull out of the water, no life jacket.”

There are many boating safety resources through FWC and local law enforcement agencies, if you want For a free vessel safety check through the U.S. Coast Guard, go to http://cgaux.org.

The Clay County Sheriff’s Office is also working with Wendy’s to reward boating safety. If deputies see a child wearing a life jacket, they will give the child a coupon for a free Wendy’s frosty.