The death of a Sarasota boy in a boating accident could soon result in a new requirement for youth instructors.
The House Commerce Committee on Thursday unanimously advanced Ethan’s Law (HB 701), a bill named for Ethan Isaacs. The sixth-grader in 2020 was sailing with a youth group on Sarasota Bay when he was killed after a motorboat lost control.
Rep. Fiona McFarland, a Sarasota Republican, said it’s a tragedy that should not have occurred.
“He was out sailing with the sailing team on a rough and choppy day in Sarasota Bay and some of the boys were falling overboard out of their little small sailboats,” she recounted in the committee hearing. “The sailing instructor was in a motorboat and as he motored over to help some of these kids who are in the water he slipped and fell overboard.”
But the engine kept going, sending the motorboat spinning out of control, and it soon killed 10-year-old Ethan.
McFarland’s bill would require anyone operating a vehicle as part of a watersport activity to wear an engine kill switch, a device attached to the operator so the motor cuts off in the event they fall overboard.
The bill also ramps up boating education. It would require materials produced by the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to address the dangers of sitting outside of designated parts of the boat, operating a vessel with people in water nearby, and the risks of starting an engine in gear or leaving a motor running while passengers are getting on or off. Of course, it will also educate people about the importance of engine cutoff switches.
McFarland noted that changes in federal law last year now require recreational boaters to wear such devices.
“We’re going to augment that requirement with education here in Florida and honor Ethan’s memory with this bill,” she said.
Mindy and Greg Isaacs, Ethan’s parents, spoke on the importance of the bill at a committee stop earlier this year. McFarland said she has worked closely with the family to craft legislation that could prevent a similar accident in the future.
A companion bill (SB 1650) sponsored by Sen. Joe Gruters has not yet been heard in the Senate.