Florida again leads the nation in boating accidents and fatalities

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Florida ranks No. 1 nationwide in both recreational boating accidents and deaths on the water, according to a United States Coast Guard report released this week.

It’s an unwanted distinction that the state has earned every year since at least 2015.

And, in a separate report, once again, the Florida Keys are tops in the state in both categories.

“It’s a title we prefer not to be known for,” said Officer Bobby Dube, spokesman for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission in the Keys.

According to the Coast Guard’s 2019 Recreational Boating Statistics Report released Wednesday, there were 679 boat accidents in Florida last year. Of those, 55 were fatal, resulting in 62 deaths.

The report’s authors estimate the accidents caused a total of more than $9.2 million in damage.

California came in second on the lists with 324 accidents and 39 deaths. Although Texas had fewer accidents (184), the state edged out California in on-the-water deaths, with 43, the Coast Guard report’s authors state.

According to the FWC report covering the same time period, the most recreational boating accidents and deaths in Florida happened in Monroe and Miami-Dade counties, respectively.

That report concludes six people died in the Keys in 90 vessel accidents. In Dade, there were 73 accidents and two deaths.

“It’s unfortunate that Monroe County and the Keys tops the list again in all categories pertaining to the FWC’s boating accident statistics,” Dube said.

Dube said the reason is because of the sheer number of people boating and coming to the island chain because of its reputation as a fishing, diving and tourist destination.

“In addition, we have weather that you can boat in all year around,” he said.

According to the Coast Guard report, alcohol was the leading contributing factor in all of the nation’s accidents last year. And the cause of death in almost 80 percent of the country’s fatal accidents was drowning, the report states.

Of the people who died nationwide, almost 90 percent of the victims were not wearing life jackets, according to the report.

“It’s critical for boaters to wear a life jacket at all times because it very likely will save your life,” Capt. Scott Johnson, chief of the Office of Auxiliary and Boating Safety at U.S. Coast Guard Headquarters, said in a statement released with the report.

Open motorboats were the types of vessels involved in most crashes, followed by personal watercraft and cabin cruisers.

Lack of boating safety instruction also appeared to be a major factor in vessel accidents nationwide, particularly the fatal ones, according to the report.

In cases where boating instruction was known, 70 percent of deaths occurred on boats where the operator had not taken a vessel safety course, according to the report.