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Boating accidents increase statewide; Lee ranked fifth

By NATHAN MAYBERG / nmayberg@breezenewspapers.com - | May 14, 2021

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission released its 2020 boating accident statistical report which showed a 16 percent increase statewide in accidents and a 21.5 percent increase in the number of people who lost their lives in boating accidents.

There were 836 boating accidents across the state last year, up by 113 over 2019. There were 79 people who lost their lives due to a boating accident in 2020.

There were three fatal incidents involving boats for people in Lee County. In Fort Myers Beach, a 45-year-old man drowned after falling off his boat in November. There were also boating accident fatalities reported in the waters off of Bokeelia and Fort Myers in 2020.

Lee County ranked fifth in the state in the number of boating accidents last year with 63, which was a slight improvement from its 2019 placing int he state when it ranked fourth (with 65 accidents).

The primary type of boating accident in Florida was collision with another vehicle (12) and collision with a fixed object (9).

Lee County has the third-most registered boats in Florida, according to data from the FWC. Only Miami-Dade County and Pinellas County have more.

Lee County was tied with Manatee County for sixth in the number of personal watercraft accidents, with 10. Of those, one was fatal in Lee County. There are 5,900 personal watercraft vehicles registered in Lee County, which is the seventh-most in the state.

More accidents were logged in May than any other month, followed by June and July.

In a statement issued by the FWC accompanying its report, the agency “encourages boaters to focus on taking the necessary steps for a safer boating experience.”

In 2020, 402 boating accidents in Florida involved collisions and 44 percent of them were due to the operator’s inattention or failing to maintain a proper lookout.

“A leading contributor to boating accidents is the operator’s inattention or failure to maintain a proper lookout,” Lt. Seth Wagner, with FWC Boating and Waterways Section, said. “Many operators believe they are looking around but they are not recognizing potential hazards or are distracted by dividing their attention between things like electronic devices or other occupants in the boat.”

Of Lee County’s 63 boating accidents last year, 15 were due to an operation’s inattention or failure to maintain a proper lookout. Operator inexperience was the second-leading cause — with six accidents. Excessive speed was cited in four accidents and machinery failure was linked to four other accidents.

According to data from the FWC, falling overboard and drowning has been the leading type of fatal accident every year since 2003. Of the drowning victims, 88 percent were not wearing a life jacket.

There were five reported cases in Lee County last year of an accident involving a person falling overboard.

“Events can happen quickly and unexpectedly, and boaters might not have time to grab their life jacket before finding themselves in the water,” the FWC said in a statement.

The FWC reminds the public that “life jackets save lives.”

Florida leads the country in the number of recreational boating accidents, with twice as many as California.

There were 935,742 recreational boats registered in Florida in 2019. Minnesota ranks second with 813,955 recreational boats, Michigan is third with 806,206 and California is fourth with 711,173.