Residents Urged To Put Safety First During Summer Boating Season

Photo by George Papabeis
Boaters during the 2011 Flugtag event appear to be ready to enjoy a day on the water as boaters are strongly encouraged to take a safe boating class and always wear a life jacket while on board.

Memorial Day weekend may be the unofficial start of summer, traditionally drawing boaters of all sort out on the water.
But, according to local law enforcement officials as well as members of the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary Flotilla 74, in Brandon, the increased activity does not always mean a keener sense of boating safety.

“The summer months are always very busy and is the most boater accident-prone time of year,” said  Auxiliary Flotilla 74, spokesperson George Papabeis. “Boaters falling overboard continues to be the main cause of boating fatalities,” he said, adding that the trend, although preventable, is growing.

An example of such incidents was reported by the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office (HCSO), following a young Gibsonton woman’s death near the Little Manatee River’s Sundance Marina in Wimauma last month.

According to HCSO spokesperson Larry McKinnon, on Wednesday, May 23, 24-year-old Jayne Henry, and her friend  Kathleen Johns were out on a canoe and had gone to an island where they had enjoyed a picnic and a few drinks.

Johns told deputies that when they finished their picnic and were getting back in their canoe, it was taking on water, which they started bailing out, but the next thing she knew is that she was waking up on the dock and did not know where Henry was.  The canoe was found upside down near the dock, deputies said.

The HCSO’s aviation and dive team responded, along with Florida Fish and Wildlife to search for Henry, whose body was later discovered approximately 400 yards up the river from the marina, deputies said.

“People fall out of boats all the time,” McKinnon said. “While it is not confirmed in Henry’s case and, at this time no foul play is suspected, alcohol is often a major factor in these kind of incidents.”

Sadly, Henry’s unfortunate death happened during National Safe Boating Week (May 19-25), which this year specifically drew attention to the necessity of a life jacket, but wearing one, while boating.

“By law, all vessels, even small crafts like a canoe, a kayak or a paddle raft is required to have a life jacket on board,” Papabeis said. “Your life jacket is only good if you are wearing it.”

Papabeis said that 90 percent of individuals involved in a boating accident had not taken a Safe Boating Class.

To assist local boaters, the Auxiliary Flotilla 74, will hold a one-day boating safety program on Saturday, June 16, at the Flotilla building at 3006 S. Kings Ave. in Brandon (J.C. Handley Park) beginning at 8 a.m. Seating is limited and pre-registration in highly recommended, however walk-ins are welcome as space allows.

Successful completion of the program entitles boaters to apply for the Florida Boating Safety Education Card, which many insurance companies honor by giving discounts on boat insurance.

For additional information, including fees, call 644-2894 (say “Public Education”) or go to www.cgaux74.org.