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Keep It Safe – Helpful Tips for Spending the Day on the Florida Waterways

a crowded beach next to a body of water

It’s hot outside, the sun’s shining and South Florida families are celebrating the kick off of summer (Florida-style) by feeding their passion for boating and all things related to being out on the water. It’s fun and relaxing but with boating comes a certain amount of responsibility and safety considerations as well.

Boating safety should always first and foremost when getting on board a boat. Following are some basics. Sticking to this list of safety tips will make for a fun and trouble-free day on the water.

Florida leads the nation with many impressive statistics such as having the most IGFA fishing world records (925), being the state with most amount of coastline in the lower 48 (1,350 miles) and having more boats registered here than any other state (954,731 recreational and 30,274 commercial registered vessels)! With almost half of the 836 reported 2020 accidents happening between the months of May-August. This is a great time to brush up on some safety information as you approach the water’s edge!

Did you know that anyone born after January 1, 1988 who operates an engine of 10 horsepower or more needs to complete an approved boating safety course and obtain a Florida Boater Safety Card? Most online courses are very affordable ($15.00-$50.00) with Boat US course being completely FREE! Regardless of age, everyone should check them out as 58% of boat operators involved in accidents were over the age of 36 and 53% of total operators did not have boater education. For more Boating Safety ID Card information check out this page, for a list of approved courses check here.

Time of Year and Day

To some, checking out the frequency of accidents and observing trends among seasons is no surprise, as the weather heats up and people head to the water to cool off but there are additional factors that may contribute that boaters and swimmers should be aware. School being out for the summer, major holidays that may involve boating (Memorial Day, Fourth of July) and popular fisheries openings (Red Snapper, Gag Grouper, Lobster Mini Season, Scallop Season) may increase the number of waterway users and therefore accidents.

To the casual boater not participating in the opening day festivities it may be easier to skip those times but for people who look forward to the season such as myself, it’s a great reminder to keep a closer lookout during periods of high use which can include time of day, when the most people are out and about or as visibility becomes limited.

Keeping a Lookouta motorcycle is parked on the side of a river

Not paying attention is the largest cause of boating accidents with collisions being by far the largest type of accident. Collisions were categorized as hitting another vessel or fixed object, hitting a floating or submersed object, grounding your boat on land, and striking someone with the hull or engine.





These types of accidents account for a whopping 60 percent of reports with most being preventable by paying attention, knowing your water way, increasing your familiarity with signs/symbols and having proper and functioning gear when operating in low visibility conditions (required and functional navigational lights or a spotlight if having to operate in the dark).





Location, Location, Locationchart

Since many boating accidents are collisions, it’s no surprise that 97% of reported incidents occurred in state rather than offshore federal waters (federal: 9 miles from shore in the Gulf and 3 in the Atlantic). Bays, creeks, canals, inlets, ponds and ports accounted for the vast majority of accident locations as there are plenty of people around and objects things to bump into. Pay attention to signage as 165 accidents occurred in areas with speed restrictions with another 74 in other restricted areas. When marked channels are present, use them! This will reduce your chances of running aground potentially damaging the environment and keep you and your passengers safe.

Understanding channel markers can be confusing to new boaters, this was a great video that summarizes how to read and use channel markers.

More Signs and Symbols

a sign above a body of water

Know the nautical rules of the water. Maintain a proper lookout and be respectful of buoys and other navigational aids, all of which have been placed there to ensure your safety and the safety of the local wildlife and other boaters around you. To learn more, check out the USCG’s Navigation Rules information page. Waterway markers can be signs attached to pilings or labeled buoys with some variation in size, shape, and material. Messages written in the sign indicate what boating practice to follow but the symbols inside the sign mean something and may be easier to spot! Check the picture below to familiarize yourself with some of the messaging that matches up with the internal shape labeled on the sign to get a better idea on what to expect. If you are approaching a sign with a circle, you will probably have to adjust your speed!




Some common messages for each symbol:

Diamond (Hazard Area Symbol): Submerged Rock, Danger, Shoal, Stump, Shallow Area, Cautionlogo

Circle (Controlled Area Symbol): Manatee Zone, Slow Speed, Minimum Wake, Idle Speed, No Wake, 25 mph

Diamond with Cross (Restricted Area Symbol): Exclusion Zone, No Entry, Swim Area, No Boats

Square (Information Symbol): Marina Entrance, State Park Ahead, Restaurant 1 Mile.

Wear life jackets The biggest safety advice for any boating trip is to wear a life jacket. The vast majority of boating deaths occur because the person involved was not wearing one. There should be a life jacket for every person on board the boat. Whether you’re planning to swim or not, wear it.

Follow proper docking procedures Go slow when docking, if you rush you could damage your boat, the dock, another vessel, or even cause an injury. If it’s not going well, don’t be too proud to back away, start again, or ask for help.

Store away phones and valuables Valuables like cell phones, keys, and wallets have a way of getting wet or accidentally falling in the water. Make sure they are secured in a dry box or waterproof bag.

Save the alcohol for later A critical piece of advice in boating safety: avoid alcohol when driving the boat. Just like driving a car, alcohol greatly affects response time and the ability to focus on what you’re doing. It’s also just as illegal.

Kid safety

Children and infants should have a U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket specifically designed for their smaller size. Teach children not to run around on the boat, to stay seated while the boat is underway and to keep their hands and feet inside the vessel at all times. Always supervise children around open water. Another good safety precaution if you boat often, is to enroll your child in a swimming class or boater safety course.

While on a boat, don’t feel pressured operate the vessel when asked if you lack boating experience, unfamiliar with the vessel/waterway, or if you don’t feel comfortable behind the wheel on the water. Mention any concerns to us and ask plenty of questions before getting behind the wheel of a boat or navigating an unfamiliar waterway. Some engine throttles can be more sensitive than others and sandbars can move! Like many things an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure!

Have fun! Boating and other activities in and around the water are some of the most enjoyable to do in Florida! The best day out on the water is when everyone makes it back to land safely!
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