Boating safely saves lives: What you need to know on the water

National Safe Boating Week aims to lower number of deadly boating accidents

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Whenever someone is out on a boat, whether driving or riding, the goal is typically to have a good time -- but a lot can go wrong.

According to new data from the Coast Guard, 636 people died in boating accidents last year.

That’s down slightly from the year before, but more can still be done to save lives.

National Safe Boating Week begins this weekend, and boating experts are sharing some simple rules to keep you safe -- and alive.

Erin Johnson, the administrative director for the North Florida Marine Association, knows boating can be a year-round activity in the Sunshine State, but she wants people to be safe.

“When you are out on the water, so many things can happen. You can have a storm pop up on you, you can have a malfunction on your boat. Someone can hit you on your boat, another boater,” Johnson said.

Some important safety rules include:

  • Always have life jackets on board and know where the extras are
  • Have a noisemaker in case you need to get someone’s attention in an emergency
  • Make sure the captain is always connected to the kill switch (having one is now a part of Florida law)

“If something were to happen, and the captain who is driving the vessel falls overboard, this is going to come out and the boat is going to stop,” Johnson demonstrated.

The kill switch is fairly simple. A boat operator puts a lanyard onto their belt loop, life jacket or something else that’s attached to their body. The other side goes into a receptacle near the throttle or ignition. If the boat’s operator is thrown from their seat, the lanyard disconnects and the engine shuts off. (WJXT)

The National Safe Boating Council suggests several other moves, including:

  • Taking a boating safety class
  • Being aware of your surroundings
  • Making a plan

Someone who is not on the boat should know where you’re going, the route you’re taking and anything that can identify the boat, like registration, make and model.

You should also never operate a boat while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. It’s a crime, just like driving a vehicle would be.

According to a new report from the U.S. Coast Guard, alcohol was the leading contributing factor to deadly boating accidents that happened nationwide. It was responsible for 88 deaths.

Operation Dry Water improves boating safety

“If you plan on becoming a boater or are already a boater, you need to make sure you are always keeping yourself and your crew safe,” Johnson said. “You have precious cargo on board. You always want to make sure that you are taking these things seriously.”

These recommendations could be the difference between life and death.

National Safe Boating Week comes ahead of Boater Skip Day, set for June 2 at Bayard Point, near Marker 24, just south of the Shands Bridge.

It’s the largest boating event in Northeast Florida where people typically opt to spend a day on the water instead of going to work.

About the Authors:

A Jacksonville native and proud University of North Florida alum, Francine Frazier has been with News4Jax since 2014 after spending nine years at The Florida Times-Union.