Sea tow rescues shed light on boating mistakes

Posted at 10:43 PM, Jan 18, 2016
and last updated 2016-01-19 09:58:41-05

Sea tow captains say there's one thing the majority of rescues have and it's causing concerns among the boating community.

"You've got 85 to 95 percent of the people out here on these waters that have never had any kind of formal boating or navigation training," said Commander Richard Wood of Palm Beach Sail and Power Squadron.

Florida is paradise for the aspiring sailor, but Commander Wood says many transient boaters get stranded in unfamiliar territory.

"We have some very nasty inlets, great inlets to go in and out of, you have to know when and you have to know how," added Commander Wood.

According to Florida Fish and Wildlife Boating accident statistics from 2014, there was 73 deaths, only 12 percent of those were alcohol and drug related.

"That leaves 88 percent that are from some kind of operator error," added Wood.

The lack of knowledge is leading to real rocky situations on the water. Captain Sean Collins with Sea Tow Palm Beach says the majority of calls he's responding to are broken down boaters.

"You can have days with 20-30 jobs a day," said Captain Collins.

Commander Wood says some are incidents that could be prevented with a boating safety course. The problem is, Florida law only requires that course for boaters born after January 1, 1988. You do not have to have a license to operate a boat.

Sea tow captains also say the most common mistake boaters make is using their cell phone GPS to share their location with sea tow operators. It makes it more difficult to find them because cell phones don't always work out in the water and the signal is coming from a tower which means the boater's actual location can be miles away. Sea tow captains recommend having a navigational system on the boat.

Both Captains Wood and Collins agree there's been more awareness since the tragic incident involving Jupiter teens Austin Stephanos and Perry Cohen, but they say everyone needs to be educated.

Click here to learn more about boating safety courses.