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National safe boating week kicks off


Although Florida’s boating season never really ends, the traditional start is marked by National Safe Boating Week, from May 20-26. The week is a time for boaters to focus on simple and effective steps that make boating safer. The Nassau County Sheriff’s Office, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office and U.S. Coast Guard wants all boaters to be safe while enjoying Florida’s waterways in our area.

As the boating capital of the world, Florida leads the nation with nearly one million registered vessels across the state and is known as a prime boating spot for residents and visitors. Each year, marine law enforcement officers respond to far too many tragic boating accidents.

While boating accidents can be caused by a variety of circumstances, including drinking while boating, surviving an accident on the water boils down to one important precaution: wearing a lifejacket. U.S. Coast Guard statistics show that drowning was the reported cause of death in three-fourths of recreational boating fatalities in 2016, and that 85 percent of those who drowned were not wearing life jackets.

“Life jackets are important and they save lives – bottom line,” said Nassau County Sheriff Bill Leeper. “If you are uncomfortable around the water you should have a life jacket on.”

Over the past two years, NCSO’s Marine Unit has responded to over 2500 water-related calls and conducted 57 rescues.  There have also been three drownings during this period.

Basic boating safety precautions like avoiding alcohol and wearing a lifejacket extend to the smallest of vessels, too. As participation grows among paddle sports like kayaking, canoeing and stand-up-paddle boarding.

“It’s so easy to get in a paddle craft now – people are going out and having fun but they don’t know a lot about the boat they are operating,” said Leeper. “We recommend any new paddlers take a safety class before hitting the water, and to never paddle alone.”

In addition to avoiding alcohol, wearing a lifejacket and taking a safety course, Leeper said all boaters can be safer on the water by checking the weather, using an ignition safety switch and learning to swim. Most personal water craft and powerboats are equipped with an ignition safety switch, and the American Red Cross offers swimming lessons by certified instructors across the state.

Boating under the influence of drugs or alcohol slows reaction time, impairs judgement and reduces coordination.  One poor decision can turn a happy water excursion into tragedy for you, your family and friends.

To assist our citizens in boating safely, NCSO will post a daily weather update and safety tips for boating safety.  Check in with us first, so we don’t have to go check on you last.