Boating accidents comparatively scarce in 2020

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A review of boating accident statistics for 2020, issued earlier this summer by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, shows that both Franklin and Gulf counties had a pretty safe, but by no means, perfect year.

The Boating Accident Statistical Report report by the Division of Law Enforcement showed each county had five reportable accidents, and two injuries. Sadly, there was one boating fatality in Gulf County in 2020.

To be classified as reportable, a boating accident must meet at least one of these five criteria - a person dies, or disappears under circumstances that indicate possible death or injury; a person receives an injury requiring medical treatment beyond immediate first aid; there is at least $2,000 aggregate property damage to the vessel(s) or other property; or the vessel is a total loss.

The counties’ accident rate were identical - one reportable incident per 608 registered vessels. This put the two counties smack dab in the middle of the state’s rankings, Franklin at 33rd and Gulf at 34th.

Franklin’s boating accidents caused $$43,300 in property damage, about four times the costs of Gulf’s $11,200 in damage.

Whereas both counties have roughly the same number of total registered vessels -  Franklin at 3,040 and Gulf at 3,042 – there is a larger percentage of recreational vessels in Gulf, 2,793 or 92 percent, than there are in Franklin, where 2,415, or just over 79 percent are recreational.

In the case of personal watercraft accidents, the counties again ranked midway among the state’s 67 counties, with Gulf at 35th and Franklin at 36th.

Gulf has 146 registered personal watercraft, and Franklin 129, although the latter offered 20 for rental in 2020, while Gulf had only 10.

Each county had just one personal watercraft accident in 2020, and one injury. No damage was reported in Franklin, while in Gulf there was property damage of $200.

The number of vessels registered in Florida increased slightly in 2020; with 985,005 registered vessels, the state leads the nation in registered vessels. Additionally, it is estimated up to one million non-registered vessels actively use Florida’s waters, and this segment of the boating population appears to still be growing.

“Our waterways show the strains of congestion as each year brings more residents and visitors together to utilize our abundant water resources and enjoy Florida’s boating lifestyle,” read the report.

A look statewide for 2020 shows there were 836 reportable boating accidents in 2020, with collision with vessel was the leading type, comprising 27 percent. Towed watersport activities were involved in 23 accidents, resulting in nine fatalities and 37 injuries, while paddle/Human powered craft, such as canoes, kayaks, rowboats and paddleboards, were involved in 14 accidents resulting in 14 fatalities and one injured.

May was the month with the highest number of accidents, 120. Monroe County reported the highest number of accidents and injuries, with 99 total accidents with nine fatalities and 52 injuries.

Among the state’s 79 fatalities, 46 percent resulted from falls overboard, with boaters falling overboard the leading type of boating fatality. The leading cause of death in fatal boating accidents was drowning with 42 fatalities, or 53 percent.

March was the deadliest month in 2020 with 10 fatalities. Alcohol or drug-use is reported to have played a role in 23 percent of boating fatalities. More than three-fourths of the victims of fatal boating accidents were males, while three out of five of the 91 operators involved in fatal accidents were age 36 or older. Three-quarters of all vessels involved in fatal accidents in 2020 were 21 feet in length or less.

Personal watercraft, which accounted for 15 percent of all registered vessels in Florida, were involved in 27 percent of reportable boating accidents. Rented personal watercraft represented 48 percent of these watercraft involved in accidents. Forty-four percent of personal watercraft accidents involved a collision with another vessel. Fifteen people died, and 183 were injured, from the state’s 227 personal watercraft  accidents.

The data also showed that 69 percent of the operators involved in fatal accidents had no formal boater education. 

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