A new report shows the number of boating accidents in Florida sharply increased in 2015 over 2014, despite there being a 25 percent decrease in fatalities.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission says in a statement Wednesday that the 2015 Boating Accident Statistical Report reveals the state had 737 boating accidents last year. That's 103 more accidents as compared to 2014.
Fifty-five people died in 2015 as a result of those accidents.
FWC spokesman Capt. Tom Shipp says many of the accidents could have been prevented if boaters had paid closer attention to their surroundings, maintained proper lookout, and if everyone had been wearing a life jacket.
Many of the deaths resulted from people falling out of a boat while not wearing a life jacket.
The commission is responsible for reviewing, analyzing and compiling boating accident data for the state. Its report details boating accidents and their causes.
The new report was published in advance of National Boater Safety Week, which begins May 21.
There were 24 boating accidents in Pinellas County in 2015, according to the FWC, and just 6 accidents in Hillsborough County in 2015.
Authorities in Hillsborough County tell ABC Action News they are using National Boater Safety Week as an opportunity to do safety checks on boaters to try to keep the number of local accidents relatively low.
In 2015, Tampa Police Department's Marine Patrol unit conducted more than 1,600 boat safety inspections. That inspection includes checking boats to make sure they are following U.S. Coast Guard safety requirements for recreational marine craft, which includes:
- Life jackets for each person on board
- Fire extinguisher
- Visual distress signal (such as flares or distress light)
- Sound producing device (such as an air horn)
- Boat registration
The Marine Patrol is also reminding people that "inexperienced boaters and alcohol can be a deadly mix."
Drinking while operating a boat is not illegal, but intoxicated operating is a crime.
In 2015 the TPD's Marine Patrol responded to more than 1,000 calls for service and conducted over 100 search and rescues with boaters who were in distress.
The Marine Patrol members fear that the increased popularity of the Tampa Riverwalk will lead to an injury accident if people don't remember to be safe.
"What we're seeing is an enormous amount of boat traffic. We have very few crashes. However we do get a lot of complaints about discourteous behavior and wake zone violations," explains Master Police Officer Russell Spencer of the Marine Patrol unit.
The number of water bikes, kayaks, small boats, rowing teams, and paddleboarders has increased, says Officer Spencer, and if boaters aren't careful, someone can get hurt.
"A paddleboard cannot sustain the same amount of wake as a boat can so if you're going too fast and too close to a paddleboarder, you're likely to turn them over or at least push them into a wall or dock or some other vessel."