By Tamas Mondovics

As the weather warms up, families are gearing up to spend time relaxing in the sun, which for many Bay area residents includes a variety of outdoor activities like boating. It is also a time to increase awareness of boating safety.

“The lack of knowledge can kill,” said boating safety instructor Gill Thomas with the Polk County Detachment Unit.

To increase awareness and to save lives, local coast guard units and auxiliary flotilla divisions are urging residents to refresh themselves on the rules of the road or, in this case water, and make sure they have all the pieces needed to enjoy the summer safely.

According to recent U.S. Coast Guard statistics, drowning was the reported cause of death in almost three-fourths of recreational boating fatalities, and that 85 percent of those who drowned were not wearing life jackets. Florida ranks number one in the nation for boating accidents and boating fatalities, with boating mishaps causing more than 50 deaths in the state in 2012 alone.

“People fall out of boats all the time,” said Larry McKinnon spokesperson with the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary Flotilla 74.  “Alcohol is often a major factor in boating incidents that can result in fatalities.”

In preparation for the summer boating season, the National Safe Boating Council kicked off its national Wear It! campaign last month promoting safe boating and life jacket wear with National Safe Boating Week.

“Every day I hear about the grim consequences of not wearing a life jacket while boating,” said Rachel Johnson, executive director of the National Safe Boating Council, the lead organization for the Wear It! campaign.

Brandon area residents may take advantage of boating safety classes conducted by the U.S. Coast Guard as well as members of the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary divisions such as the Flotilla 74, which holds a one-day class every second Saturday of the month from 8 a.m.-5:30 p.m. at the flotilla building located at J C Handley County Park First White Building, 3006 S. Kings Ave. in Brandon.

The division also offers 15-minute Vessel Safety Checks (VSC) performed at the Williams Park Boat Ramp on the first and third Saturday of each month from 10 a.m.- 2 p.m.

The 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.

The Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office Marine unit will also be out on the water in force, making sure that boaters are safe.

For additional information, go to, or content.php?unit=070-07-04.

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