By KEVIN BRADY
A basic boating course would improve safety on local waterways, according to experienced local boaters.
The state legislature is to consider a proposal from St. Petersburg State Representative Dwight Dudley who wants some level of basic safety training for anyone operating a vessel in Florida.
Currently, Florida law requires anyone born after Jan. 1, 1988 to complete a National Association of State Boating Law Administrators-approved boating education course or to have passed a course equivalency or temporary certificate examination. The law applies to boats and personal watercraft.
More training sounds reasonable to Vic Granowicz, owner of Lands End Marina. The business rents boat slips and repairs vessels.
“I know there are some people who are not very well trained and are just trying to figure it out on their own. More training would lead to fewer accidents,” said Granowicz, who has owned the Apollo Beach-based business for 15 years.
Florida is, by far, the national leader in boat accidents as well as deaths and injuries related to boating.
There were 704 boating accidents and 55 fatalities in Florida last year, according to the U.S. Coast Guard Safety Division.
It’s safe to assume there were more than that since the figures only count accidents that cause more than $2,000 in damage.
Jerry Foster has been working at Little Harbor Marina in Ruskin for 20 years and boating for more than 30.
“It’s probably a good idea,” said Foster, owner of a 46-foot trawler. “It would probably lead to less accidents, injuries and deaths.”
Too many people buy a boat and take off in it immediately like it’s a car,” Foster said. “But that’s just not what it is. I see some crazy things go on. Go to a boat ramp like Simmons Park or Williams Park. That’s where you will see the need for some basic boating training.”
Without any training, novices are sometimes lost, Foster said.
“The rules of the road and navigation are very important in boats as well as knowing just how the boat works. A lot of people just don’t know the rules.”
While he believes boaters need to be trained, Foster is wary of more government bureaucracy.
“There are a lot of free boating courses out there, like the ones offered by the Coast Guard Auxiliary. The problem is that the general public doesn’t know about them. We need to become more aggressive on the need to get training.”
Hillsborough County rounds out the top 10 counties in Florida for boating accidents, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC).
May and June are the worst months for accidents with most occurring in a bay or sound, not the ocean. Of all the 704 boating accidents reported in Florida last year, 44 percent involved collisions with other boats or fixed objects.
Adding weight to the theory that lack of boater education plays a part in many accidents, 55 percent of the operators involved in Florida boating accidents last year had no boater education, according to the FWC report. Of the 59 operators involved in fatal boating accidents last year in Florida, 71 percent had no boating education.
Rodger Willis of Ruskin’s Shell Point Marina has been boating for 30 years and believes more training for novice boaters can only improve safety on local waters.
“I think everyone needs to at least take a U.S. Coast Guard exam before they even set foot on a boat. It’s a little like driving a car, you need to have some kind of common knowledge.”
U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary flotillas offer regular boating safety courses.
For more information on Flotilla 75, based in Ruskin, or Flotilla 74, based in Brandon, call 877-242-8975 or visit the local tinyurl.com/observer-uscgaux. The flotillas also have Facebook pages.
To read the FWC’s Boating Safety Report, visit the group’s website, www.myfwc.com/boating/safety-education/boating-accidents/