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Lawmakers should heed boat owners

There was a brief time in Florida, starting when the esteemed LeroyCollins was governor, when the opinions of boat owners were sought before some ill-conceived legislation was inflicted upon the taxpayers afloat.

A half-dozen or so owners of boats from various parts of the state served without pay on what was known as the Florida Advisory Boating Council.

They worked with the heads of what is now called the Department of Natural Resources and the Fresh Water Game and Fish Commission.

In a series of one-night stands, they went to a number of communities to hear what the boating people had to say about various issues or local problems.

The council members turned in advisory recommendations and, as I recall, most of them survived beheading by the Florida State Cabinet, historically a landlubberly lot, to say the least.

Today, apparently, legislators do not seriously seek counsel from those closest to the water - the boat owners - and instead pay more attention to peripheral influences.

Boat owners should be considered in legislative boating ventures just as agricultural matters should be in the province of farmers.

It is interesting, however, to note that some boat-owning citizens are getting their opinions made public through letters to newspaper editors.

Roy H. Wheeler of Treasure Island made this observation: "Give boaters credit for the dramatic drop in boating fatalities, not law enforcement people and politicians. Credit should go squarely where it is due, the typical boater who is operating his vessel safer than ever." They surely are in the majority.

James Frijouf, a licensed U.S. Coast Guard captain, as far back as last October said in a letter, "We do not need any reactionary legislation and controls at this time. The statistics, when fairly presented, show the vast majority of my fellow boaters are considerate, safe operators and we're getting better."

Frijouf devotes a great deal of volunteer time to boating education, and search and rescue work. He was the first to point out that based on U.S. Coast Guard official statistics the Florida boat fatality rate, bad as it was, was not the much publicized 2 1/2 times higher than the national average. It was half that.

The fatality total, by the way, is confusing in that commercial fishing vessel fatalities are tied in with recreational boats. That makes as much sense as counting the 23 deaths in the Blackthorn collision 10 years ago part of the Florida death total.

Commercial fishing always operates in a perils of the sea element.

As it is, the recreational boat owners of Florida are under siege, whether they realize it or not, from a fusillade of restrictions and special interest environmental influences that make a once pleasurable pursuit a task.

Nationally the battle for boating safety is being won on the educational fronts as the record clearly shows. Why should Florida lawmakers decide that to license nearly 3-million boat operators is the best way to catch 5 percent of the don't-give-a-damners afloat?