I think in the middle of summer, it is always imperative to do a blog on boating safety/liability. It is even more important to do this when you live on the Emerald Coast. Everything we do in the summer surrounds water. Whether we are playing in the bay, ocean, taking a boat out - we are in the water. Recently, the Destin Log put out an article that was enlightening and somewhat disheartening. According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission's 2015 boating statistics, Okaloosa County is ranked 12th out of the state's 67 in "boating incidents." These incidents included reported accidents, injuries and fatalities. The U.S. Coast Guard reports that with 873,507 registered recreational vessels, Florida has more boats than any other state. At the same time, the Sunshine State ranked at the top for the number of recreational boating accidents, with 581 in 2014.
Boating is one of summer's best things to do, especially in Northwest Florida. You can see the sandy white beaches, enjoy the beautiful water, and usually see a marine animal or two. And usually, those that take a boat out to enjoy, take their children along with them. There is no reason not to take the kids along. But make sure they're protected.
Channel 7 WJHG reports that FWC has confirmed that a 17-year-old male was killed this past Wednesday after his jet ski collided with a 20-foot boat in Grand Lagoon. The young man was heading east in Grand Lagoon, while the 20 foot Sea Fox , carrying five people on board from Alabama was heading towards the campground area at St. Andrews State Park. The incident occurred just before 6 p.m. Wednesday. Officials say the 17 year old worked for Sunshine Water Sports PC and was leading a jet ski tour during when the accident happened. After the accident, he was taken to a local hospital and later pronounced dead. As of now, officials are still investigating how and why the male collided with the boat.
The Northwest Daily News reports on how important water safety is, especially this weekend during the Billy Bowlegs Pirate Festival. This is a big weekend for us here in Northwest Florida. Many families look forward to this weekend all year. Although the annual Billy Bowlegs Pirate Festival takes place on land, thousands celebrate on the water. That makes for a crowded Santa Rosa Sound and puts area law enforcement on high alert. This year's festival, which will be held June 4 to June 6 at Fort Walton Landing, is no different. Officials are already urging the public to obey marine laws and adhere to basic water safety rules. A Michele Nicholson, spokesman for the Okaloosa County Sheriff's Office told the Northwest Daily News, "Slow down, keep your head on a swivel and slow down on the alcohol consumption. If people do those things, that will have a major impact on everyone's enjoyment and safety." Like many law enforcement agencies, the Sheriff's Office will have marine units patrolling the sound during the festivities. Also on the water will be the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. "Our special operation command team will be patrolling the interior areas," spokeswoman Bekah Nelson said. "That's where the heavy crowds are. ... People want to make sure they have a sober (boat) driver." Although the Billy Bowlegs Festival happens at the Fort Walton downtown landing, many revelers boat to the area and party on the water for hours. Some also boat in for the fireworks on Friday night after Capt. Billy Bowlegs captures the city. On land the Fort Walton Beach Police Department will deploy extra officers to deal with the increased number of visitors to downtown, said Sgt. Tracy Hart. "It's summertime and it's extra people who don't often visit the area," he said. "And we want to make sure everyone is safe." Officers also will support the Sheriff's Office and FWC as it deals with medical calls, boating under the influence and other incidents. "What happens on the water comes on land," Hart said. "We'll be there to assist with that."
The Northwest Florida Daily News reports that Drew Barefield, who was hit by a boat while snorkeling in the Choctawhatchee Bay a little less than a year ago, is the official 2015 Ambassador for Boating Safety Week in Destin. What a great way to turn a tragedy into promoting an important and great cause. The ceremony took place with Miss Destin, Coast Guard members, emergency responders and supporters of the Ronald McDonald House honoring Drew, his parents and his sister Savannah. Drew told the paper that he was feeling pretty good. He felt like he was almost all the way healed. According to the family, the support from the community and the Ronald McDonald House was fantastic. The Ronald McDonald House took care of everything, from food and fresh clothing and towels to getting him in contact with an optometrist when he needed new contacts.Trey and Wendy, Drew's mom, were there from June 28 to Sept. 11. During that time, Drew was at Sacred Heart Hospital in Pensacola, fighting for his life after being severely injured by a boat propeller. If you remember, it was a Sunday evening when young Drew was struck by the propeller of a boat headed west at a high rate of speed. Drew's recovery was long. He started out in a wheelchair before graduating to a walker. He lost a lot of weight and has regained 20 pounds. Almost a year after the accident, he looks like any other 13-year-old, nearly healed.
A sad accident happened our waterway to a vacationer. According to the Northwest Florida Daily News, a woman paddle boarding near the Shalimar Bridge late Saturday night was severely injured when she was hit by a boat. The 28-year-old vacationer from Georgia was taken by helicopter from the scene of the accident to a Pensacola hospital, where her leg had to be amputated below the knee, said representative Nelson with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. The woman's condition has since stabilized and Fish and Wildlife investigators hope to interview her in the next day or so. There were at least two witnesses to the accident and authorities are hoping that others with information will step forward, Nelson said.