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A Times Editorial

In Florida, boat safety can't be optional

On dark bay waters one night last October, two boaters blindly crashed into water hazards. The first injured a man, a woman and two young children when their boat struck a jetty at Weedon Island around 9:30 p.m. Two hours later, five teenagers in a 22-foot boat failed to see another obscure jetty at Albert Whitted Airport in St. Petersburg. One teen was killed.

Last week, the city of St. Petersburg demolished the airport jetty that had been there for 80 years. But that only eliminates one hidden obstacle in local waters. Boaters, too, have a responsibility here, as these two crashes show.

At the time of the accidents, state law said that anyone 21 or younger had to pass a course and get a boating safety education card before they could drive a power boat. Investigators for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission said neither operator in the two accidents on Tampa Bay last October had one. That is all too common.

In 2008, the commission reports, there were 77 fatal boating accidents in Florida, and in 93 percent of them the boater had not passed the safety course. Now that should be changing.

Effective this year, anyone born Jan. 1, 1988, or later (with a few exceptions) must pass a state-approved boater safety course before they can operate a power boat or water scooter. The full impact of this will take several years. As that fixed date slips further into the past, the law will apply to more boaters until eventually every boater is covered. As the two wrecks above grimly illustrate, it is important to know what you're doing.

The training emphasizes basics — wear a life vest, watch for other boats and stay out of their way. There also are some Florida-specific lessons that even experienced boaters from out of state may not know. Some boaters also may want to take it a step further and get in-depth training like that offered by the local Coast Guard Auxiliary.

With pilings, rocks, piers and jetties, there are enough hazards in local waters. Don't add ignorance to the list.

In Florida, boat safety can't be optional 01/29/10 [Last modified: Friday, January 29, 2010 9:57pm]
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