Call it a year of tears for many north Florida families who lost loved ones on these waters. From Franklin to Suwannee County, state officials counted 18 fatalities and injuries out of 21 total boating accidents last year, but the news comes as no surprise to many locals.
Frank Bailey, a boater of 30 years, says, “You can't drive like you're driving a car. There's no brakes, you can't turn, and the ocean doesn't forgive.”
Luckily, the ocean did forgive the five Wakulla men who were stranded on the Gulf for 30 hours last June, but it was a fatal ending for four other boaters from Florida and Georgia in 2004.
The main cause for concern Henry Cabbage, a FWC spokesman says, is, "People drinking too much; people not wearing life jacket; it's like wearing a seat belt in a car."
Much like a DUI, a BUI carries stiff penalties. It's a first degree misdemeanor, a $250 fine, and in extreme cases you can spend at least six months behind bars.
For Ben Jenkins, drinking on the water is never an issue. In fact, safety is his utmost concern.
Ben says, “This being the first trip of the summer. It's the first thing I do.”
Seeing is believing, and wildlife officials hope they'll see more of these this boating season. Another interesting fact is FWC says the typical boating victim is a 22 to 55-year-old-male with many hours of experience on the water.