Lack of paying attention and being on the lookout accounted for almost half of boating accidents in Florida in 2020.
With the release of the 2020 Boating Accident Statistical Report, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) encourages boaters to focus on taking the necessary steps for a safer boating experience.
“A leading contributor to boating accidents is the operator’s inattention or failure to maintain a proper lookout," said Lt. Seth Wagner, FWC Boating and Waterways Section. “Many operators believe they are looking around but they are not recognizing potential hazards or are distracted by dividing their attention between things like electronic devices or other occupants in the boat.”
In 2020, 402 boating accidents involved collisions and 44 percent of them were due to the operator’s inattention or failing to maintain a proper lookout.
“It is important for boaters to keep in mind that a vessel should be treated with the same responsibility as a car or truck so everyone can enjoy Florida’s beautiful waters,” Wagner said.
The number of vessels registered in Florida increased slightly in 2020. With 985,005 registered vessels, Florida leads the nation in registered vessels. Additionally, it is estimated that up to one million non-registered vessels actively use Florida’s waters, and this segment of the boating population appears to still be growing.
Florida had 836 boating accidents in 2020, which is 113 more accidents than in 2019, a 16 percent increase. A total of 79 people lost their lives last year in boating accidents, 14 more than the previous year.
This total includes five missing persons who at the end of 2020 have not been located or accounted for and their circumstances suggest that death or serious injury has occurred.
According to the report, Alachua County reported one boating accident out of 11,468 registered vessels resulting in $10,000 in damage compared to the highest rate of accidents occurring in Monroe County's 99 accidents resulting in $708,036 in damages.
Miami-Dade County with 70,804 registered vessels racked up 95 accidents resulting in $3 million in damages.
According to the report, most boating accidents happen between 4 and 6 p.m. and a majority occur in bay areas followed by the ocean or gulf areas coming in second.
Of the total accidents, 224 were collisions with another boat and 163 were collisions with a fixed object.
Commercial boat activity accounts for 46 accidents, recreational fishing accounted for 93 accidents and a majority -- 762 accidents occurred when vessels were cruising recreationally.
No proper lookout or inattention accounted for 240 accidents with operator inexperience coming in second with 77 accidents.
Since 2003, falling overboard has been the leading type of fatal accident with drowning as the leading cause of death. Of the drowning victims, 88 percent were not wearing a life jacket. Today’s boaters can choose from several models of light and comfortable, inflatable belt-pack or over-the-shoulder life jackets that can be worn while fishing or enjoying the sun. Events can happen quickly and unexpectedly, and boaters might not have time to grab their life jacket before finding themselves in the water. The message is clear, “Life Jackets Save Lives.”
The FWC is responsible for reviewing, analyzing and compiling boating accident data for the state. Its statistical report details boating accidents and their causes.
According to the report, 36 percent of boat operators and occupants involved in accidents reported that they do not know how to swim and 65 percent of those involved in accidents do not wear a personal floatation device (PFD).
For a copy of the 2020 Boating Accident Statistical Report, visit MyFWC.com and select “Boating,” “Safety & Education” then “Recreational Boating Accidents.”