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Boaters caused fewer accidents in 2022 in Florida, but deaths rose

A wrecked boat on a shore underneath tree limbs
Florida Fish And Wildlife Conservation Commission
The operator was taken to the hospital and two people were injured when the driver of this personal watercraft in Collier County lost control along Kice Island south of Marco Island and plowed into mangroves

The report from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation on the 2022 boating season shows fewer accidents at sea, but more deaths.

Boating accidents involving captains impaired by alcohol or drugs fell by nearly half in Florida, those killed while operating personal watercraft dropped by 70%, and the overall number of people injured while boating was down slightly.

That’s according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s new report on the 2022 boating season. The main takeaway: Fewer accidents at sea, but more deaths overall.

Florida still leads the nation in the number of registered vessels.

Boating deaths climbed slightly, perhaps because the number of fatal falls from a vessel was up as was the percentage of accidents that resulted in a drowning death.

Forest Rothchild, a spokesman for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission in Southwest Florida, said the report may survey bad things that happen on what is supposed to be a good day on the water, but it holds many clues to safe boating — such as the person driving the vessel should have plenty of experience and expertise.

“One of the biggest standouts is not giving the proper lookout, which often carries over to boater inexperience,” he said. “Most often we see people with less often than 100 hours of experience, and we see them almost get tunnel vision, which is why we try to reiterate people’s situational awareness and having a 360-degree lookout when operating a vessel.”

Captains with no formal boating experience were at the helm in 70% of accidents last year, down from 83% in 2021, despite the number of boating safety education cards being issued down by roughly 5,000 in 2022 from the previous year.

Anyone born on or after Jan. 1, 1988, must complete a boating safety class to captain a boat in Florida, although the successful completion of a boating education course that results in the card is suggested for new captains.

The Florida Keys took the top spot in the number of boating accidents previously held by the greater Miami area.

Pinellas County ranked fourth in total accidents last year in Florida with 40 incidents.

Lee County ranked fifth with 37 accidents resulting in three fatalities.

Hillsborough County ranked eighth with 22 accidents, and Sarasota County ranked ninth with 19 accidents.

Collier County ranked 12th with 18 incidents, but nobody died.

Citrus County ranked 17th with 15 accidents. Charlotte County ranked 18th with 14 accidents and two fatalities. Pasco County ranked 19th with 13 accidents.

Manatee County ranked 21st with 12 incidents.

More than 80% of those who died were not wearing a lifejacket.

“Accidents happen quickly and unexpectedly, and boaters might not have time to grab their life jacket before finding themselves in the water,” said Lt. Nicholas Korade from FWC’s boating and waterways section. “The message is clear: life jackets save lives.”

In 2021, 23% of captains were impaired, 17 people died on personal watercraft, vessels a rider sits or stands on, not within, and the number of people injured while boating in the Sunshine State was 469.

In 2022, those numbers were 13%, five, and 457.

In 2021, 1.01 million boats were registered in Florida, boating deaths totaled 60, and 33 of those were from drowning.

In 2022, those numbers were 1.03 million, 65, and 38.

The FWC is responsible for reviewing, analyzing, and compiling boating accident data for the state. Its statistical report details boating accidents and their causes.

Information from the News Service of Florida contributed to this story.

Environmental reporting for WGCU is funded in part by VoLo Foundation, a non-profit with a mission to accelerate change and global impact by supporting science-based climate solutions, enhancing education, and improving health. 

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