JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – As Memorial Day traditionally launches the summer boating season, wildlife officials are urging boaters to follow safety measures to make sure everyone can safely enjoy being on the water.
According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, there were 766 boating accidents last year in Florida -- resulting in 67 fatalities and 437 people injured, and causing a total of $8,531,000 in damages.
"(There were) 25 boating accidents in Duval County (last year)," Lt. Paul Arkin, an FWC field supervisor, told News4Jax on Monday.
With more people being out on the water, Arkin and other FWC officers want to make sure people have what they need to stay safe while boating.
Arkin said patience among boaters is key, especially when there's a lot of traffic on the water. He advises that boaters should always have a checklist to make sure they have all the necessary safety gear on board.
"Boating safety gear being: a life jacket, personal flotation device for everybody on board, a horn or a whistle, a sound-producing device, a fire extinguisher, a throwable device if your vessel is over 16 feet," Arkin said. "If you're going offshore, have flares. Make sure you use a kill switch. It's very important, if you fall overboard, that kill switch is attached to you."
Arkin said boaters should also check the weather before taking their vessel out and never drink while boating.
"We have a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to boating under the influence," Arkin said. "One of the things that people like to do on holidays, and on the water, is drink alcoholic beverages. It's not illegal to drink on a boat, but it's illegal to be impaired and operate that vessel. If you are caught, we have a zero-tolerance policy and you will go to jail for operating that vessel impaired."