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Senator Phil Rockefeller of Washington introduced a boating safety education bill through the state senate to address the increasing concerns over recreational boating safety. This bill comes a few days before the Columbus Day weekend and the Columbus Day Regatta which has become quite popular in South Florida. I was watching last night a news conference involving one of the representatives of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission warning that the waters will be policed this weekend and reminding all boaters to exercise extreme caution during this busy boating weekend. Recreational boating accidents are too common of an occurrence in Florida. Often times, the consumption of alcohol is related to a boating accident. Many times operating fast boats at an excessive speed is the contributing factor to the accident. There are many violations of the navigational rules of the road on the waterways that result in serious accidents.

Under the current law where Senator Rockefeller introduced his proposed legislation, the State Parks and Recreation Commission enforces recreational boating safety rules that are consistent with the United States Coast Guard regulations, but there is no mandated boating safety program.

The bill introduced by Senator Rockefeller, referred to as Senate Bill 5145 requires a commission to establish a program that would provide compulsory boating safety education programs with examinations and accreditation from the United States Coast Guard auxiliary and the United States power squadrons.

The proposed legislation by Rockefeller would require recreational boaters to obtain a boater education card by the year 2016. The bill would also impose a minimum age of 12 years old to operate any boat of 15 horse power or more, or require that the young boater be supervised by someone at least 16 years old who has a valid boater education card.

Statistics revealed that the number of boating accidents decreased in Washington, but the number of fatalities rose. The United States Coast Guard statistics stated that in Washington there were almost 169 accidents in 1997, and 117 in 2001, making a total of 675 accidents over a four year period of time.

The state with the most fatalities is Florida.

The president of the Washington Recreational Boating Association was quoted as saying that improved boater education and stricter rules have resulted in safer waterways in other jurisdictions.

Again, as Columbus Day weekend approaches, and the Columbus Day Regatta event occurs, with the heavy traffic of recreational boating on our Florida waterways, we remind everybody to exercise extreme caution, operate all recreational boats at a safe speed, keep proper lookouts, and do not consume alcohol while operating a motorboat.

The bill introduced by Senator Rockefeller, SB 5145 was approved by a 30-18 vote, and is now with the State House of Representatives for approval. We applaud this type of legislation and Senator Rockefeller’s efforts to improve safety on the waterways.

Our firm continues to be safety advocates for all those who engage in recreational boating on our waterways, and support any legislation designed to improve safety on the waterways. Recreational boating accidents in the state of Florida occur at an alarming rate. I have previously blogged about statistics that were published by Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

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