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Eight people died in boating accidents in Polk County last year, more than any county in Florida.

Although Polk County ranked 14th in the state in reported accidents with 14 in 2005, more than half cost lives.

Fatalities in Polk occurred at Lake Alfred, Lake Easy, Lake Hart, Lake Tracy, Surveyors Lake and phosphate pits. Most were in the summer with small boats, and one of the eight involved a jet ski.

Eighty boaters died in 2005 statewide, a 15 percent increase over 2004 and the most in the past 10 years, according to the 2005 Boating Accident Statistical Report from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

With the Memorial Day weekend ahead, boaters should note that more than 75 percent of boating deaths occur without a life jacket. That was the primary message of National Safe Boating Week, which ends today -- wear life jackets, stay alert and avoid alcohol and drugs.

Almost half the accidents were collisions with other boats or fixed objects, so it pays to always have at least one set of eyes scanning the water.

There are almost 1 million registered recreational boats in Florida, and a large percentage will be on the water this weekend.

The report, released last month, said the most accidents happen in July, with May a close second.

Fishermen are safe boaters, accounting for just 13 percent of the 666 total accidents. Pleasure boaters were involved 84 percent of the time.

Carelessness was the No. 1 citation issued, accounting for 35 percent of the accidents. Alcohol or drug use were leading causes in fatal accidents.

While Polk ranked 14th in accidents, counties where many Polk Countians go to fish and pleasure boat ranked in the top 10.

Pinellas County, which includes part of Tampa Bay, ranked fifth with 35 accidents, seven of them fatal.

The majority of boating accidents in Florida occurred on the southeast coast, from Palm Beach to the Florida Keys. Monroe County, which includes the Keys, led the state with 120 reported accidents, more than twice any other county. Six people died.

Seventy-two percent of boaters involved in accidents had not taken a safe boating class. Classes are offered almost continually in Polk County by either the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary or the Lakeland Power Squadron.

And boaters ages 14-21 are required to have permits.

These numbers can seem boring, but their message is simple -don't be a statistic

http://www.theledger.com/apps/pbcs....UMNISTS0603/605260400&SearchID=73246226240376
 
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