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.
As the temperatures and dew points start to increase there is no better place to spend the day than on the water. Along the Northwest Florida coast we are blessed to have plenty of boating opportunities from fishing to water skiing.
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.
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."
Having knowledge of boat safety is important in our area. It is getting warmer, and as it gets warmer, more people want to start enjoying the Bay and the Gulf. This past Saturday, Northwest Florida Daily News reports that boaters and paddleboarders went to Rocky Bayou on Saturday to support a cause close to their hearts: water safety. There also were canoes, kayaks and other vessels.