With a year-round supply of sun and plenty of water, from freshwater lakes to the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico, Florida is a boating paradise.

Florida had nearly 900,000 registered motorboats in 2014, more than any other state. Unfortunately, the large number of vessels means a higher number of boating accidents, injuries and deaths, many of them linked to alcohol and risky behavior on the water.

In fact, Florida led the nation in 2014 with 70 recreational boating fatalities, according to the U.S. Coast Guard 2014 Recreational Boating Statistics.

Of 4,064 boating accidents reported nationwide, Florida accounted for roughly 11 percent. The 581 boating accidents reported in Florida caused 327 non-fatal injuries and $7.38 million in damages, the report shows.

Number of Boating Accidents and Injuries Increase Nationwide

U.S. Coast Guard statistics show:

  • The number of deaths nationwide increased 8.9 percent to 610 from 560.
  • Total injuries across the country increased 2.2 percent to 2,678 from 2,620.
  • Total accidents rose slightly to 4,064 from 4,062.
  • The fatality rate of 5.2 deaths per 100,000 registered recreational vessels showed a 10.6 percent increased from the previous year.
  • Boating fatalities increased in Florida to 70 from 58 in 2013 and 50 in 2012.
  • Boating accidents in Florida decreased to 581 from 685 in 2013, an  average of about 650 the previous four years in Florida.

Main Causes

Intoxicated boaters contribute to a significant portion of fatal boating accidents. Alcohol use was listed as the leading cause in 21 percent of fatalities in 2014, according to coastguardnews.com.

Alcohol played a part in 30 Florida accidents in 2014, resulting in 12 deaths and 29 injuries, the Coast Guard report shows.

For the five-year period from 2010 through 2014, Florida averaged 31 alcohol-related accidents, which caused 10 deaths on average and 26 non-fatal injuries.

Other leading causes of accidents were operator inattention, improper lookout, inexperience and excessive speed.

When the cause of a person’s death was known:

  • 78 percent of fatal victims drowned.
  • 84 percent of those drowning victims were not wearing a life jacket.
  • In cases where boating instruction was known, 77 percent of deaths took place on vessels where the operator had no boating safety instruction.
  • Motorboats, personal watercraft and cabin motorboats were most likely to be involved in accidents.
  • Vessels with the most fatalities were open motorboats, canoes and kayaks.

Safety Focus

The U.S. Coast Guard undertakes initiatives such as Wear It! to encourage boaters to put on life jackets and Operation Dry Water to discourage drinking and boating.

The Coast Guard reminds all boaters to act responsibly while they’re enjoying a day on the water:

  • Wear a life jacket.
  • Take a boater safety course.
  • Get a free vessel safety check.
  • Avoid alcohol and other substances that impair your ability to operate a boat.

The Florida Boater Safety Course can be taken in three simple steps online, which includes studying the course material and taking the Florida Certification Exam. Those who pass the test and pay a $29.50 fee receive a temporary certificate before getting a permanent card.

Course work concentrates on improving boating skills with six units breaking down these topics:

  • Before getting under way.
  • Getting out on the water.
  • Navigation and safe operation.
  • Florida’s legal requirements for boating.
  • Boating emergencies.
  • Enjoying water sports.

Before hitting the water this summer, make sure your vessel is equipped with safety equipment, including life jackets, and be prepared to deal with any emergency that may occur. To do that, avoid alcoholic beverages and other intoxicants. Be a responsible boater. If you have been injured in a Florida boating accident caused by another boater’s unsafe behavior, talk to a Tampa injury lawyer about your legal options for seeking compensation.