Avast, mates and ahoy. It's time to get your outboard motors cranked and steam full ahead into the summer boating season.
Memorial Day weekend is widely considered the start of the summer seafaring season, when boaters bring their vessels out of the winter dry dock and plop it into water. The Sunshine State's number of pleasure craft and commercial vessel registrations hovers near 1 million.
With all those boats under way, there are bound to be mishaps, collisions and serious wrecks.
Education and good safety equipment are keys to keeping your timbers from being shivered, said Tim Teahan, spokesman for the local U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, which offers regular safe-boating classes. The holiday weekend comes at the end of National Safe Boating Week.
He said there were 657 boating accidents reported in 2008. Last year, 620 were reported statewide.
Of all the boaters in wrecks on the water in 2009, Teahan said 70 percent had no formal boating education. Also, 59 percent had more than 100 hours of underway experience, meaning boaters involved in wrecks were somewhat experienced.
Also, the numbers show that it's not the younger, teenage boaters who are getting into the wrecks, he said. The mean age of boaters who get into accidents is 36.
There's always the question of whether alcohol and water mix, but most of the boating accidents were not caused by drunken sailors, he said.
Alcohol, he said, "really wasn't a real factor. Most of the accidents were caused by inattention."
The auxiliary classes are taken by about 150 boaters each year, he said.
"It's been higher in the past," he said. "I guess the economy now has taken a toll on some of that.''
Water safety experts always caution boaters about having their crafts checked out thoroughly before leaving port, so as not to be caught in the briny without power. Captains also should check safety equipment and electronics on the boat.
Coast Guard auxiliary members often can be seen at boat ramps around the region offering to check safety equipment on vessels about to be launched. If all the equipment is in order, a sticker is issued, and that could result in law enforcement passing on making the checks on the water.