On-water enforcement not keeping pace in Florida

WINTER HAVEN, Fla. – Law enforcement efforts in Florida are straining to keep pace as the number of registered boats in the state increases and the number of boating and personal watercraft deaths are on the rise, the Orlando Sentinel reported in a story yesterday.

A record number of boats – 1,010,370 – were registered in Florida in 2005, and there were a 10-year high of 80 fatalities and a nine-year high of 11 personal-watercraft fatalities. More than 350 people last year were injured in accidents that ranged from people simply falling off the bow of moving boats to explosions on the water, according to the newspaper.

The number of sworn officers patrolling for the state, however, has remained relatively steady in recent years. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission patrols state waters and investigates about 75 percent of accidents in the state. The agency has added 12 sworn officers since 2003, going from 712 to 724, the Sentinel reported.

Its $76.5-million operating budget has seen a 31-percent increase during the past 15 years, in part because of the addition of a tax on fuel sold at marinas that the agency began getting in 2003-04. The tax helped fund 10 new positions, which was the last time the agency added more than two positions in a fiscal year, according to the newspaper.

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