Broward County

South Florida is the deadliest place in state for boaters

In May, a Key Largo man died when he crashed this boat into mangroves near the Jewfish Creek Bridge in Key Largo.
In May, a Key Largo man died when he crashed this boat into mangroves near the Jewfish Creek Bridge in Key Largo.

Broward and the Keys were the deadliest places in Florida to be in a boat last year.

Monroe County had five boating-related deaths in 2015, sharing the dubious honor with Broward County as the deadliest waters in the state, according to a state report.

Students at St Thomas Aquinas High School held a prayer vigil Thursday night, August 13, 2015, for classmates involved in a deadly boating accident that happened late Wednesday night in Fort Lauderdale.

Statewide, the number of 2015 boating deaths declined to 55, nearly a 25 percent drop from the 73 boating deaths in 2014. Dive or snorkel deaths do not count toward the boating statistics.

The 2015 Boating Accidents Statistical Report released by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission again ranked Miami-Dade first and Monroe second in the number of "reportable boating accidents" — those involving death, injury, loss of a boat or causing more than $2,000 in damage.

Miami-Dade had 96 major accidents last year, causing $3 million in damage with three deaths and 74 injuries. Monroe had 78 reportable accidents, causing the five deaths and 48 injuries. Property damage was placed at $646,842. Broward County (57 accidents, five deaths, 42 injuries) ranked third among the state's 67 counties.

"Nearly half of boating accidents in 2015 involved collisions and 34 percent of all collisions were due to inattention or the operator failing to maintain a proper look-out," according to the FWC report.

Lt. Seth Wagner of the FWC's Boating and Waterways Section said, "It is critical for operators to maintain a proper lookout and focus on what is going on around their boat at all times."

Monroe County's one personal-watercraft death of 2015 occurred in October when Key Largo liveaboard resident Stanley Konopka III, 55, crashed his 10-foot Yamaha Waverunner into an anchored boat in Tarpon Basin. Alcohol was a factor in the 1 a.m. crash, FWC investigators determined. Unlike most boating victims, Konopka was wearing a life jacket but personal watercraft are banned from running at night.

Steven D. Reynolds, 64, of Key Largo was killed, impaled by a tree branch, when his 17-foot boat crashed into mangroves near the Jewfish Creek Bridge in a 4 a.m. accident in May. A passenger was seriously injured.

Arthur Garel, 68, of Miami died in November when a 25-foot boat capsized in rough waters off the Lower Keys. A 37-year-old Summerland Key resident survived and was rescued.

Dennis Dallmeyer, 67, of Key West was counted as a boating fatality in December, nearly a year after he disappeared from his 25-foot commercial fishing boat. His empty boat, key still in the ignition, was found eight miles offshore. No trace of him was ever found.

The county's fifth boating fatality occurred in mainland Monroe County water, near the Collier County line. Details were not available at press time.

More than half of Florida's 55 boating deaths were attributed to drowning. "The message is clear: Life jackets save lives," an FWC spokesman said.

Statewide, the number of serious boating accidents increased to 737, 103 more than in 2014. Florida leads the nation with 915,713 registered boats, and estimates of more than 1 million unregistered craft (kayaks, canoes and paddleboards).