Boating Tips from Florida Wildlife

Bucks Falcon Mercury

With over 12,000 square miles of water, 2,000 miles of beautiful tidal shoreline and 12,000 miles of fishable rivers, streams and canals, Florida is a boating paradise. As the weather heats up and kids get out of school, many people will be taking to the waters to cool off and relax.

That’s where the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) comes in. In addition to patrolling all of Florida’s waterways, FWC staff promotes access to them by developing and maintaining boat ramps. The goal is for everyone to be able to enjoy the water safely.

Each year, FWC officers rescue around 1,000 people, many of them on the water.

Earlier this year, in Escambia County, two people were left hanging onto the Bob Sikes Bridge after their boat began to take on water and sink. Fortunately, two FWC officers responded and brought them safely to shore.

However, not everyone is so lucky.

In 2012 there were over 700 boating accidents, and 55 people tragically lost their lives as a result. FWC officers do everything they can to keep people safe, but there are also measures that boaters should take to protect themselves.

Remain alert, wear a life jacket at all times and designate a sober boat operator. These three simple actions can mean the difference between a fun day on the water and a tragic one.

There are many comfortable life jackets on the market today, including compact styles that automatically inflate if you hit the water. Having it stored in a bin is legal for adults, but you will be much more likely to stay afloat if you’re always wearing it.

Some popular waterways can get crowded at times. Ensuring that your boat operator pays close attention to the surroundings, including signage, other boats and animals, and hasn’t had any alcohol are absolutely necessary to be safe.

Recently, FWC officers in Duval County received a complaint of an impaired boater. When they located him, he had three children onboard and was unable to dock his boat. The officers used a rope and pulled his boat to the dock. After sobriety tests and a check of his blood-alcohol level, he was arrested for BUI and taken off the water before he could injure himself or others.

If you see someone operating dangerously, putting himself or others in harm’s way – say something! The FWC’s Wildlife Alert hotline is staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week. You can report fish and wildlife law violations as well as dangerous boaters. Helping the FWC is another way to stay safe and enjoy your day on the water.

Also, if you encounter any FWC officers, remember it is their job to keep people safe, and they have many ways to do that. They may put on a boating safety course for students, be called to rescue someone or in some instances, have to issue a citation.

If you are out on the water, you may be stopped briefly so they can check your vessel registration and safety equipment or inspect your fishing licenses and catch. FWC officers are trained to handle public interactions with respect and humility. But you can help ensure a positive experience and even reduce the number of times you are stopped.

If an FWC officer spots a boat without the proper registration, it is likely that the officer will stop it. Operating recklessly is another sure way to be stopped. Also, having all of your safety gear onboard and easily accessible not only helps in case of emergency, but it makes checks go more quickly as well.

Let’s work together to protect this paradise and enjoy it safely!

For more information on boating access or boating safety, visit

Editorial note: “Protecting Paradise” provides a glimpse into the world of an FWC officer. Finding lost hikers, checking boaters for safety gear and teaching children about fishing and hunting are just some of the contributions they make. This column is written by Katie Purcell, Division of Law Enforcement Community Relations Coordinator. It will feature different topics to help communicate with the public and foster the shared passion and teamwork that are vital to protecting Florida’s people and beautiful natural resources for years to come.