Few areas are as welcoming to boaters as Pinellas County. Our home is a boater’s paradise with year-round warm weather and miles of coastline. But there are more chances of boating accidents with so many vessels on the water. In 2020 the US Coast Guard reported 5,265 recreational boating crashes that caused 767 fatalities, 3,191 injuries, and resulted in $62.5-million in property damage. Here in Pinellas County we had 56 boating accidents in 2020. The leading factors that contributed to crashes, both nationally and locally, include operator inattention/improper lookout, inexperience/lack of training, and speed.

Florida doesn’t require any kind of boating license, but to legally operate a vessel of ten horsepower or more, anyone born after January 1, 1988 has to take an approved boating safety education course. Vessel operators must carry proof of that certification or they can be ticketed.

A deputy needs to have witnessed a violation in order to stop a motor vehicle, but a Marine and Environmental Lands Unit deputy can stop any vessel simply for a safety check. Boats are required to have several kinds of safety equipment, including a personal floatation device (PFD) for each passenger, a throwable ring or cushion, an audible signaling device such as a whistle or horn, and a Coast Guard-approved marine fire extinguisher. Each piece of missing equipment could result in a citation, but many deputies prefer to use such stops for educational purposes and only issue warnings.

There must be PFD in the vessel for every adult and child when they are on the water, and every child under six on a vessel less than 26 feet must wear a properly fitting US Coast Guard approved PFD at all times.

A PFD can be hot and bulky, but the right PFD can save your life – if you’re wearing it. Some PFDs are designed to ensure that a person floats face-up even if they are unconscious, which can be vital if you’re boating alone. Wearing a PFD is also the safest choice in rough seas or high wind, or if a person isn’t a good swimmer.

Deputies can also stop paddleboarders and kayakers for safety inspections or violations. Human powered vessels need PFDs and an audible signaling device to be in compliance.

Awareness is a vital part of boating safety. Watch for signs indicating no-wake or minimum-wake zones. These are the marine equivalent of speed limits and can be in place to help prevent collisions, to reduce harm to protected species or ecosystems, or to protect property. The vessel operator should always be looking out for hazards including boats, swimmers, divers, underwater obstructions, or structures.

You should also be alert to the weather. Check out the forecast including storm potential, wind speeds, and tides, before you get underway. Be aware that in our area storms can form quickly and conditions can swiftly deteriorate.

The PCSO Marine and Environmental Lands Unit is here to help you stay safe on the water.

Posted by Laura Sullivan Wednesday, July 6, 2022 9:43:00 AM

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