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Boater Safety Legislation Prompted by Case of Boys Missing at Sea Now in Effect

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A year ago, all the world was focused on the heartbreaking disappearance of two South Florida teens who had spent the day boating in Jupiter Inlet. Austin Stephanos and Perry Cohen, both 14, were experienced on the water, but when a storm hits, even the most skilled boaters are at risk. That’s why it’s crucial to have emergency communications equipment on board at all times. Had the boys’ boat been fully equipped, they may ultimately have been found. Now, a new state law in effect as of July 1 may help encourage Florida boaters to better protect themselves on the water.

Known as the “Beacon Bill,” the new law provides boater registration discounts of around 25 percent to those who purchase and register either an emergency position indicator radio beacon (EPIRB) or personal locator beacons (PLB). Florida Senator Joe Negron and Representative MaryLynn Magar proposed the legislation after meeting with Blu and Carly Stephanos, parents of Austin Stephanos. The family and supporters helped to lobby the legislation via the AustinBlu Foundation, established in the boy’s memory.

PLBs are registered to individuals, can be as small as a cell phone and are push-button activated. Rescue experts recommend connecting them to a life jacket while on the water. EPIRBS are registered to vehicles and are activated manually or by coming into contact with a volume of water that suggests a boat is taking on water or has capsized. When activated, a beacon will send a coded message on the 406 MHz distress frequency which is relayed via Cospas-Sarsat, an international satellite-based search-and-rescue system coordinated by the US, Canada, France and Russia. According to statistics from Cospas-Sarsat, use of 406-MHz beacons have saved more than 37,000 lives since the early 1980s.

For boats that measure between 16 feet and 26 feet, the most common size here in Florida, the law cuts the annual state fee from $33.50 to $28.75 for those who show proof of purchasing and registering either a PLB or EPIRB. PLBs can be bought for about $250. EPIRBS start at around $300 and can run upward of $800.

July is a busy – and potentially dangerous – month for boaters in Florida waters. If you own or operate a boat, we here at Harrell and Harrell urge you to make sure all recommended safety and emergency communications equipment is on board and in prime working order. Be safe on the water, and if you suffer an injury caused by negligence on the part of another boater, call 800-251-1111 and speak with a dedicated boating accident attorney. 

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