News Releases

Stay safe on the water this weekend

News Release

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Media contact: Karen Parker, 386-758-0525

This holiday weekend promises to be one of the busiest of the year on the state's waterways. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) wants to make it a safe holiday weekend as well.

Even one accident is too many.

Boating safety is one of the FWC's core missions, and officers will be out in force this weekend, performing safety checks and educating boaters about the importance of wearing life jackets while on the water. They will also be paying close attention to boat operators who are impaired.

If you're boating on the Suwannee River, be aware of jumping sturgeon.

There have been 11 reported sturgeon encounters this year, according to Maj. Lee Beach, regional law enforcement commander for the FWC's North Central Region, based in Lake City.

"So far, six people have been injured in encounters with these big fish," Beach said. "We recommend that boaters go slow to reduce the risk of impact and to give people more time to react if they do encounter a jumping sturgeon."

Biologists are unsure why sturgeon jump.

To report sturgeon collisions, call 888-404-FWCC (3922).

"If anyone is involved in an incident with a jumping sturgeon, please report it to the FWC. With the data received, we can get a better overall view of where the fish are jumping. We are trying very hard to get the word out to the public," Beach said.

Here are some additional safety tips if you're going to be out on the water this weekend.

  • Always wear your life jacket.
  • Keep a sharp lookout in all directions when operating a boat. Watch out for other boaters, fixed or floating objects, wildlife and bad weather.
  • Make sure you have all the safety equipment required on your boat and that it's in good working order. Also bring a weather radio to check reports to avoid storms.
  • July Fourth is the one time a year many boaters - who may rarely navigate in the dark - venture out after the sun goes down. Keep your speed down, post an extra lookout, and ensure all your navigation lights work. Be extra vigilant about not running over anchor lines in crowded fireworks-viewing areas, and don't take shortcuts in the dark. When running at night in restricted waters, use a searchlight to locate regulatory markers and obstructions. Turn off all unnecessary lighting to promote better night vision and safety. Don't shine a searchlight directly on other boaters who are under way.
  • Don't overload your boat. Resist the urge to invite more friends or family to the fireworks show than your boat was designed to carry. Heavily loaded small boats, and those with little freeboard such as bass boats, are more susceptible to swamping from weather or wake action associated with heavy July Fourth boating traffic.
  • A full day in the sun will increase alcohol's effects on the body, so if you're the operator, remember to take it easy. According to FWC investigators, alcohol is the most common factor involved in boating fatalities.
  • Never run the engine when swimmers are in the water:  Raft-ups, or groups of boats tied together in a protected anchorage, is a great way to spend the holiday with fellow boating friends. But you should never run an engine with swimmers in the water near exhaust ports or props.  
  • File a float plan so someone knows where you are and when you're supposed to return. Leave the plan with a relative or friend or at least a local marina. Leave a phone number of local authorities your relative or friend should contact if you are overdue. Contact this person again when you return or if you decide to extend your time out on the water.
  • Take cover before bad weather hits. Avoid boating in thunderstorms or other nasty weather. Though most people fear the lightning produced by summer thunderstorms and rightly so, the wind, which can easily exceed 45 mph and the accompanying torrential rain are far more likely to cause a boater serious problems.
  • Take a free boater education course. The Florida Legislature enacted a boating education law that requires completion of an approved boating safety course for anyone under 21 years of age who operates a boat with a motor of 10 horsepower or greater. You can take a free, state-sponsored boating safety course by calling the FWC's Lake City regional office at 386-758‑0525 or visiting to take the course online.

"We want everyone to have a great time on the water this holiday weekend," Beach said, "but we also want everyone to make it home at the end of the holiday.

"Be safe and have a great Fourth of July," Beach said.

FWC Facts:
The American crocodile is an endangered species success story. Since 1975 their numbers have increased from fewer than 300 to more than 1,500 adults.

Learn More at AskFWC