After accident, family turns grief into water safety campaign

A year ago, an outing on the 14-foot family boat turned deadly when a storm came up. A father and his 8-year-old son didn’t return that day. First, their life jackets were found floating in the lake. A few weeks later, their bodies were finally recovered. As devastated as the family was, they decided to turn the tragic boating accident into a campaign to save others.

The accident occurred in a 25,000-acre lake that is a popular boating, fishing and camping spot for people from miles around. It’s not in Florida, but the story touches on so many issues faced by Florida boaters that we wanted to share it.

The family established an organization named after their lost loved ones that is dedicated to raising awareness and improving water safety. In its first year of operation, the organization has secured $25,000 in funding that’s being used to launch programs on three key safety topics: life jacket use, the dangers of hypothermia and the challenges of changing wind and weather.

Life jackets. The rule in Missouri, where the family and their organization are based, is that anyone under age 7 must wear a life jacket at all times while on board. The organization is lobbying to have the law changed, increasing the age to 16. Most states require all children under 12 or 13 to wear a life jacket, or personal flotation device (PFD), either at all times or at specific times. A PFD may not be required, for example, when the boat is anchored.

Florida is one of two states with an age limit even lower than Missouri’s. Here, children under 6 must wear a PFD, and only when the boat is underway. A PFD, then, is not required if the vessel is anchored, moored, aground or made fast to the shore.

In addition to its legislative work, the organization is helping with a media campaign directed at kids. Also, the organization has helped to finance a life jacket “loaner” station at the lake. This station has about a dozen PFDs available to lend to boaters.

Continued in our next post.

Source: News-Leader (Springfield, Mo.), “After boating tragedy, family makes push for water safety,” 03/26/11