Safe Boating Week 2020
May 16th to the 22nd was Safe Boating Week, did you miss it? With the pandemic dominating the news it seemed to pass unnoticed. Normally by early May all the states have reported their annual boating accident statistics to the United States Coast Guard for compilation into a national report on what happened on the waters in the previous year. At that time, it is an opportunity to look at the trends around the country. Unfortunately, year after year not many changes.
The leading cause of deaths on the water remains the same, drowning, that is because in a boating accident you will likely end up in the water. In at least 80% of the accidents with deaths, the operator of the boat had not taken a safe boating class. And the list goes on, so once a year there is push before Memorial Day to remind boaters to stay safe on the water.
As of this writing the national numbers published by the Coast Guard are not yet available online, however the numbers for the state of Florida are. Here in Southwest Florida we have good years and bad years, like the number of deaths on the water, it is minimal one year and spikes the next. But even here it seems no matter how hard we try certain trends never change.
Lee County normally ranks in the top five in accidents statewide. In 2019, Lee County ranked #3 in registered recreational vessel, #4 in reportable accidents, and #1 in deaths with nine. Those nine deaths compared to the toll the pandemic is taking would be a rounding error. Yet safety on the water should not be made light of or overlooked.
Instead of reciting all the gruesome statistics from the report from the state of Florida, let us look at some encouraging news. In 2019 the state saw its largest jump in Boating Safety Education I.D. Cards issued. From 2015 through 2018 the annual increase was less than 5%. In 2019 the increase was over 12% from 2018. Lee County came in at #6 in the state, issuing 1,673 cards. The Cape Coral Power and Sail Squadron was proud to have helped over 17% of those boaters to earn those I.D. cards as graduates of America’s Boating Class.
Unfortunately, with the 2020’s teaching season being cut short across the state, many students seeking to take an in-person safe boating class were not able to. At the Cape Coral Sail and Power Squadron three classes were cancelled meaning 90 to 100 boaters were affected there alone. Across the state it is hard to project the impact.
Yes, there are still online safe boating classed being offered, America’s Boating Club and other organizations offer online course that lets boaters earn their state I.D. cards. Those courses are better than not taking a safe boating class, but those students miss out on the opportunity to soak up some local knowledge that instructors in the classrooms offer.
America’s Boating Club squadrons, like the Cape Coral Sail and Power Squadron, are not the only organizations that offer in-person safe boating classes. Most United States Coast Guard Auxiliary Flotillas also offer in person classes locally.
The Cape Coral Sail and Power Squadron hopes to resume its in-person classes in September and running them monthly through November, resuming in January 2021. Depending on the current state guidelines, theses classes may have a lower than normal limit on the number of students.
Safe boating is important to all of us and we do not want to see any of our fellow boaters become an on-the-water statistic next year. It would be preferable to see more of you earn your State of Florida Boating Education I.D. Card. So, consider registering early to reserve a seat for a course in the fall.
Stay safe on the water.
Barret Bonden, a recurring character in the Patrick O’Brian seafaring novels, is the nom de plume for one of our many safe boating instructors.