For a state that is predominantly surrounded by water, it comes as no surprise that Floridians own approximately 889,350 boats. With sunshine almost year-round, in addition to the accessibility of The Atlantic Ocean, the Gulf of Mexico, and countless lakes, the high number of boat-owners seems quite normal. But while the luxurious yachting lifestyle may come to mind when this fact is considered, a lesser-known evil is lurking in the shadows. Florida is the leading state in boating accidents and boating fatalities per year. If the state’s lax boating laws are not reevaluated, the numbers will only continue to grow.
Baseball fans around the world were devastated to learn about the death of Miami Marlins’ pitcher, Jose Fernandez, this past September. The Cuban-born athlete defected in 2008 and began a high school baseball career in Tampa. Fernandez signed with the Marlins in 2011. On Sunday, September 25th, Fernandez, along with two others, was found dead alongside an upside-down 32-foot boat. The boat seemed to have hit a jetty at full speed, resulting in the deadly crash.
Unfortunately, Fernandez’s accident is more common in Florida than anywhere else in the United States. Michigan, Minnesota, and California each have more than 700,000 boats registered, but still, all three states combined report vastly fewer fatalities than Florida. So, why is it that Florida is still ranked the highest for boat fatalities? A few factors should be considered. One major reason may be the fact that there is no minimum age for operating a boat in Florida. Florida’s history rests heavily on a “powerful boating industry,” so just as children in the Midwest can operate tractors to help out on the family’s farm, children in Florida could drive boats to help out with the ever-growing boating industry.
Another possible reason for heightened boat-related deaths in Florida could be that drunk boaters are rarely ticketed for operating while drunk. Although the same drinking and driving laws apply to boaters as drivers, these laws are rarely enforced in the water. In 2011, over 55,000 DUI tickets were issued for Florida’s 14 million registered land vehicles. “On the water, where drinking is exceedingly common, only 237 citations were given in 2013 by the FWC, the agency that doles out the majority of BUIs [Boating Under the Influence]…less than half of 1 percent of the number given on land.”
Until the state of Florida reexamines their boating laws, it is likely that tragedies similar to Fernandez’s will continue. Implementing stricter penalties for operating a boat under the influence, and/or a simple age restriction, could have a massive impact on reducing the number of boating accidents in Florida. Although Florida relies so much on its tourism and boating industry, the state must consider strategies to raise awareness on this issue and enforce boating laws in order to make the water a safe place.