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Local charter captains teaching boater safety classes

Posted at 7:55 PM, Jun 05, 2023

According to the newest report from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, 515 of the 926 boating operators in accidents from 2022 did not have formal boating education. FWC requires people to complete a boating safety class and have an ID card to be able to legally operate a boat in Florida.

Even after people complete the safety course, they're still inexperienced when they get on a boat because the classes are taught in a classroom or online. Now, two local charter captains are working to give people hands-on experience to help increase boating safety.

Stacy Horak is a charter fishing captain out of St. Marks. Within her first year of having her captains license, she had to learn hands-on boating safety through trial and error and online videos.

"Just teaching myself and learning and that's when I realized there are not a lot of resources to learn the proper way," said Horak.

This is the same issue captain Krista Miller out of St. George Island ran into as well. Horak and Miller got connected through Facebook. They decided to create a boating safety class for other women in the area. Miller said they were overwhelmed with hundreds of women reaching out to be a part of their classes.

"Take me out and teach me you know how to get comfortable with this boat," said Miller. "Like certain women who just purchased their boat on their own, or women who wanted to take their kids without their husband, or just wanted to be able to help their husband trailer the boat."

Florida, the boating capitol of the world, had 735 boating accidents in 2022 according to FWC. Of those 735 accidents, 43% were due to operator inexperience; meaning limited time on a boat and a lack of boater education.

This is something Horak and Miller's classes are trying to help with. Horak said there's a lot to cover, but they start from the ground up.

"Trailering and launching and docking the boat and understanding the channels and there's a lot to it," said Horak. "But we do not want people to be intimidated. It absolutely can be done and it can be done in a safe manor."

Although the number of boating accidents has gone down since 2021, there was a rise in fatalities. FWC said there were 65 fatalities in 2022, 5 more than the year before, with the leading cause being people falling overboard and drowning.

Horak makes sure to teach new boaters what to do in that situation so they don't add to that statistic.

"Life jackets and a kill switch. Those to me are the most important things when you're on the water," said Horak.

Miller believes they're making a difference by hosting these classes.

"Every chance we get it's one more safe boater that can be out there on the water," said Miller.

Horak and Miller said they're still finalizing some dates for summer classes, but they'll be posted on their websites, Fishing with Captain Stacy and Fishing FGI, for anyone interested in signing up.