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To Lower Preventable Boating Deaths, FWC Highlights Importance Of Life Jackets

Tim Donovan
Fishing with life jackets on the Wacissa River

This week is National Safe Boating Week, and Florida wildlife officials are highlighting the week to ensure boaters put safety first and wear a life jacket.

That’s part of an ad by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission promoting the importance of wearing a life jacket.

And, Brian Rehwinkel says state officials like to highlight that tip especially during National Safe Boating Week. He’s the outreach coordinator for the FWC’s Boating and Waterways Section.

“The boating accident statistics tell us very clearly that by always wearing a life jacket, your chances of a good outcome in the event of a boating accident are increased dramatically,” said Rehwinkel. We talk an awful lot about finding a comfortable life jacket that can be worn all the time. We’re asked often times, ‘well, what’s the best life jacket for me?’ And, our answer is, ‘well, the one that you will wear.’”

While the number of boating accidents fluctuate each year, the number of fatal accidents has been on the rise in the past couple of years. According to the FWC, there were 634 reportable boating accidents in Florida last year—resulting in 73 deaths, about 10 more than last year.

Rehwinkel says many of the accidents were actually falls overboard, and the week highlights why wearing life jackets is so critical.

“28 percent of the fatal accidents in 2014 was falls overboard,” added Rehwinkel. “That’s very, very common. So, that’s almost a third of the fatalities are related to falling off the boat. And, in fact, if you read the report, many of those accidents are so unremarkable that if you didn’t know someone lost their life, the accident wouldn’t seem like it because it could be someone falling out of a canoe, a kayak, someone in a small boat fishing, and they end up in the water unexpectedly. And, that’s key, and they end up in the water without a life jacket.”

Still, Rehwinkel says he wants to make it clear that the FWC wants people to have fun:

“You can go out on the water, and please do,” he continued. “Take your family, take your friends, go out on the water, fish, cruise, there are a variety of water sports…go out and enjoy it! And, you can do it safely with some simple steps. Find a life jacket that you can wear all the time, take a boating safety course. It’s easy to do, pay attention when you’re operating a boat! But, we really do want people to go out on the water and enjoy themselves, we just want them to do it safely.”

National Safe Boating Week runs through Friday.

For more news updates, follow Sascha Cordner on Twitter: @SaschaCordner.

Sascha Cordner has more than ten years of public radio experience. It includes working at NPR member station WUFT-FM in Gainesville for several years. She's worked in both radio and TV, serving in various capacities as a reporter, producer and anchor. She's also a graduate of the University of Florida with a bachelor's degree in telecommunications. She is the recipient of 15 awards from the Associated Press, Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ), and Edward R. Murrow. Her award-winning stories include her coverage on the infamous “Dozier School for Boys” and a feature titled "Male Breast Cancer: Lost in the Sea of Pink." Currently, Sascha serves as the host and producer of local and state news content for the afternoon news program "All Things Considered" at WFSU. Sascha primarily covers criminal justice and social services issues. When she's not reporting, Sascha likes catching up on her favorite TV shows, singing and reading. Follow Sascha Cordner on Twitter:@SaschaCordner.