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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WWSB) – Florida waters last year were the deadliest for boaters in at least a decade, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Manatee and Sarasota counties were mentioned in the report, reporting the 9th and 10th highest number of accidents, respectively.

Art Conforti, an avid boater from Sarasota says a big part of the problem is that there are many more boaters out there because of the pandemic and a lot of them haven’t been certified or trained properly.

“It’s very scary because if everybody’s not playing by the same set of rules than you don’t know what the next move is going to be, anticipating the next boater’s move is a big part of boater safety,” said Conforti.

The 2020 Boating Accident Statistical Report released Friday showed 836 boating accidents in 2020, the most in a year since at least 2011 and 16 percent more than in 2019. Meanwhile, the state recorded 79 boating deaths in 2020, also the highest total since at least 2011. The deaths were up 21 percent from 2019.

People falling overboard and drowning was the leading cause of death, according to the report. The commission noted that 88 percent of the drowning victims were not wearing life jackets. Nearly half of the accidents last year involved collisions where often the attention of vessel operators was diverted or proper lookouts were not maintained.

“Many operators believe they are looking around, but they are not recognizing potential hazards or are distracted by dividing their attention between things like electronic devices or other occupants in the boat,” Lt. Seth Wagner, of the commission’s Boating and Waterways Section, said in a prepared statement.

In Manatee County, operator inexperience was cited as the most common reason for accidents; In Sarasota, inattention to surroundings was listed at the reason for the most number of accidents. Sarasota and Manatee both saw two deaths in 2020.

Law enforcement says drinking and boating is also a big part of why we have seen a spike in boating accidents as well as many boaters driving recklessly.

“The biggest key is being prepared, know what the weather is going to be,” said Lt. Chris Skinner with the Longboat Key Police Department. “If there are going to be storms coming later in the day, be prepared, don’t be offshore and getting caught in some rough seas. “Have your basic safety equipment, have a flotation device for every person on board.”

Since 2011, the state has averaged 722 accidents and 65 deaths a year. Monroe County, which includes the Florida Keys, had the most accidents, 90, and deaths, nine, in 2020. The other counties with the most accidents were Miami-Dade, Palm Beach, Pinellas, Lee, Okaloosa, Bay, Collier, Manatee, and Sarasota.

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