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Safe Boating Week May 22-28 is the perfect time to see where the Florida boating public can improve.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission released its 2020 Boating Accident Statistical Report on May 7. The report revealed that boaters on Florida waters must do a much better job of keeping safe if they plan to return to the dock, marina, or launch ramp in one piece.

Florida has 1-Million registered vessels — the most of any state in the United States — and, in 2020, there were 836 reported boating accidents, according to the released Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission 2020 Boating Accident Statistical Report.

The most alarming number in the report is the 79 fatalitiesup 16% from 2019 — and the highest total since 2011. The 2020 data also reveals more boats on the water leading to more accidents, and based on boat sales during the first part of 2021, it appears as if both of those trends will be climbing. One thing Florida boaters are lacking, according to the report, is education.

One million boats

The report indicated a sizable spike in new boater registrations and, likewise, an increase in accidents over the past few years. The following five points of data are the most interesting:

  • 985,005-registered vessels — most in the nation — up 23,739 from 2019 and more than 50,000 since 2016.
  • 836-reportable boating accidents, up 26% from 2019. 
  • 387-collisions with either another vessel (224) or a fixed object (163).
  • Drowning was the leading cause of death (47%); Trauma was second (39%)
  • 69% of the operators in fatal boating accidents had no formal boater education.

The FWC noted that “Florida leads the nation in registered vessels, but it is estimated that up to one million non-registered vessels actively use Florida’s waters, and this segment of the boating population appears to still be growing.” The leading cause of death in fatal boating accidents was drowning (53%) and most of those victims were not wearing a personal flotation device (73%).

Get a safe boating education

One glaring problem made clear by the 2020 boating accident statistical report was the need for more boaters to become much better trained in safe boating methods. A total of 365 boating accidents, or nearly 44%, involved operators of age 36 and older who told investigators they had no formal safe boating training.

‘A life-saving difference’:  Coast Guard tips for staying safe on the water

Many observers might expect the age of boat operators involved in accidents to be much lower. However, since 2010 Florida has required boaters born on or after January 1, 1988 to obtain a Florida boater’s identification card after completing an approved safe boating course. Therefore, younger boaters are actually becoming better trained than boaters in their 40s and 50s.

The good news is, the gap between boaters without safe boating education and those with is closing. In 2020, Florida issued 74,376 boater’s education identification cards and another 11,497 to out-of-state residents.

Use a kill switch

As of April 1, a new law passed by Congress mandates the use of an engine cut-off switch or an engine cut-off switch link, commonly called a kill switch. For vessels of 26 feet and shorter with 3 horsepower or greater operators will have to connect the switch. In case the operator falls overboard or is knocked away from the helm or tiller, the switch will turn the engine off and prevent a runaway boat. Some fatalities have occurred when boaters have been tossed overboard and the boat remains in gear, turns and runs over the person once he or she is in the water.

For more information on the 2020 Florida Boating Accident Statistical Report or to read the entire report, go to