WINTER HAVEN — As boaters hit Polk County lakes, eager for relief from Gov. Ron DeSantis’ safer-at-home executive order and ready to soak up some authentic Florida sunshine on the water, it’s worthy to note that this is National Boating Safety Week.
“Our lakes are extremely popular without the recent restrictions we have had,” Winter Haven Public Safety Director Charlie Bird said. “We encourage everyone who plans to boat this holiday weekend to be extra vigilant with the increase of boaters and other watercraft sharing the lakes. Pack your patience, be smart and be safe.”
Of all Polk’s municipalities, Winter Haven is known as the “Chain of Lakes” city for its 50 pristine lakes.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is responsible for patrolling most of those waters and keeps tabs on yearly fatal boating crashes statewide.
In all, there are about 554 natural freshwater lakes in Polk County, and that doesn’t include the various rivers.
Being that the leading cause of fatalities in boating accidents is drowning, according to the 2019 Boating Accident Statistic Report, the FWC put out a media release last week promoting a “Wear your life jacket to work day,” showing its officers with their life jackets as they patrolled the waters.
According to the report, although speed is an issue monitored by patrols, most fatal boat crashes are attributed to “falls overboard.” In 2018, Florida led the United States for fatal boating accidents.
In 2019, of the 961,266 registered vessels in Florida, there were 58 accidents with 65 fatalities, a death rate of 6.7% per 100,000 vessels. That total was up from the previous year’s 59 fatalities.
April was the most active reported crash month, with eight crashes in 2019 statewide, and June the least active crash month, reporting only two crashes for the month.
In 2019, 12 fatal crashes occurred between 4 p.m. and 5:59 p.m., the late afternoon and early evening hours of the day, the FWC reports.
The primary cause of death (in 43 crashes, 66% of the fatalities) was due to drowning, the FWC reports.
FWC Major Rob Rowe noted the state agency continues to remind boaters to be safe and slow down.
Safety tips include wearing life jackets, maintain a 360-degree awareness and know the dangers and penalties for driving a boat while impaired by alcohol or other substances.
“Life-changing tragedies often happen because individuals choose to operate a boat or drive a car while impaired. Those tragedies are preventable,” said Rowe.
Visit MyFWC.com/Boating for boating safety tips. To report people who are boating dangerously, call 888-404-FWCC (3922) or text [email protected]
To see a copy of the 2019 Boating Accident Statistical Report, visit bit.ly/3e3NYjB.
Kathy Leigh Berkowitz can be reached at [email protected] or at 863-802-7558. Follow her on Twitter @kberkowitzthel1.