GOP Sen. Ileana Garcia is set to appear before the Environment and Natural Resource Committee Tuesday, pushing an act she says will help improve boat safety and cut down on illegal renting of vessels in Florida’s waterways.
Garcia is being joined by Republican Rep. Adam Botana of Bonita Springs as the lead sponsors in the Senate and House, respectively. The Boating Safety Act of 2022 will require individuals renting out boats to earn a no-cost permit from the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. To qualify for that permit, the person renting the boat must provide a list of vessels being rented, have valid insurance, have a sufficient number of flotation devices and provide other safety equipment required under state and federal law.
“The Boating Safety Act of 2022 protects Floridians and visitors, our marine life and natural resources by addressing the harmful actions of bad actors while ensuring an uninterrupted use of our waterways by responsible enthusiasts and supporting boater education,” Garcia said in a statement ahead of Tuesday’s hearing.
“Equipping the public with the knowledge they need to change their boating habits will have lasting impacts and benefit our waterways for generations to come.”
In recent months, Garcia has pushed to crack down on illegal boat charters as accidents increased in 2020. Data show there were 836 boating accidents last year, a 16% jump from 2019. Most deaths were caused by individuals falling off the boat and drowning, with 88% of victims not wearing a life jacket.
Garcia hails from Miami, which is a popular spot for residents and tourists looking to get out on the water. The majority of crashes have happened in waters near Miami-Dade County. As lawmakers ready for the 2022 Legislative Session, Garcia and Botana want officials to ensure those trips are being taken with the proper crew and safety equipment onboard.
“My family has been in the boating and livery business for over 15 years now and I feel this bill is common sense,” Botana added. “This will help FWC combat bad actors across the state of Florida. It does not impede any business and is a good bill — that’s why I’m honored to run it.”
Charters already require a pre-ride safety instruction. The bills would up those standards, to be established by FWC, to include identification of navigational hazards and boating-restriction areas as well as emergency procedures should the ship sink or someone fall overboard.
The bills would also require written agreements between the parties with a list of names and addresses of those onboard along with emergency contacts and a log of the times the vessel is expected to be returned. Those contracts must be maintained for at least one year after the agreement is made.
Among other provisions, the measures would also make those agreements, as well as the rental facilities, open to inspection by law enforcement in the event of an accident. Those running the charter operations would also be required to report any accidents.