With summer in high gear and the Fourth of July approaching, safety experts are asking boaters to pledge to be safe out on the water and follow the rules.
Last year, Florida ranked number one in the nation for boating fatalities, followed by California. According to the U.S. Coast Guard, 70 percent of all boating fatality victims drowned. Of those, 84 percent had no life jacket.
Rachel Johnson, a spokeswoman for the National Safe Boating Council, said a life jacket would have increased those victims' possibility of a safe rescue.
"Choosing to wear a life jacket is a simple life-saving choice," she said.
The council is currently raising awareness of its "Wear It" campaign, which is aimed at educating boaters on the importance of wearing life jackets, as well as asking those in the boating community to sign the Safe Summer Pledge.
The pledge, found online at www.safeboatingcampaign.com/camp-pledge.htm, allows boaters to share their dedication to safe boating with family and friends through social media, like Facebook and Twitter.
"Basically, the pledge is just showing their dedication to boating safely and wearing a life jacket every time they're out on the water," Johnson said. "And, of course, encouraging their friends and family to do the same."
The pledge cards and campaign has been used in the boating community for years, with the council partnering with local and state groups to get the word out. The pledge went online for the first time last year to raise awareness.
"It's the sort of thing where social media is such an important component of outreach," she said, adding that having the pledge online also enables boaters to take on the responsibility of safety themselves and share it with others.
In 2011, the Coast Guard counted 685 accidents in Florida that involved 61 deaths and 422 injuries and caused approximately $24.82 million in damages.
Nationwide, 15 children under the age of 13 died while boating last year.
Johnson noted that safe boating involves more than just life jackets.
"It also brings up the importance of boating sober, not under the influence of alcohol or drugs," she said. "And taking responsibility when you're operating a vessel - knowing the navigational rules, safe speed, proper lookout."
According to the Coast Guard, alcohol use is the leading contributing factor in fatal boating accidents; it was the leading factor in 16 percent of deaths.
Operator inattention, improper lookout, operator inexperience, excessive speed and machinery failure are the top contributing factors in accidents.
The Coast Guard reported that only 11 percent of deaths occurred on vessels where the operator had received boating safety instruction. Seven percent involved instruction from a NASBLA-approved course provider.
"These courses give boaters that knowledge base before they get out on the water," Johnson said, adding that boating safety courses are encouraged.
Along with the Safe Summer Pledge, boaters can share their safe summer boating stories online with the National Safe Boating Council for a chance to win a life jacket and a flip mini HD camcorder. Deadline to submit is Sept. 3.
In 2011, the council received 40 to 50 submissions for the contest.
Johnson explained that it can be a fun, silly story or cautionary tale. Last year's winner was a man from Canada who shared his story about running into a boat safety check with his wife and being interviewed for the news.
Submissions can be sent in online, or they can be mailed to the headquarters of the National Safe Boating Council, at P.O. Box 509, Bristow, VA 20136.
The council's push for safety on the water typically starts in May with National Safe Boating Week. The current campaigns are a second push.
"This kind of reminds boaters the summer's still going on," she said. "We know you're out there still having a great time - don't forget to be safe."