Family of Teen Missing at Sea Prompts New Boater Safety Legislation

Emergency locator devices like these are credited with saving more than 37,000 lives.

Emergency locator devices like these are credited with saving more than 37,000 lives. In the wake of the disappearance of two Florida teenagers who went missing at sea in July, the family of one of the boys is helping to promote new proposed legislation aimed at equipping boats with emergency locator devices. If passed, proposed bills SB 746 and HB 427 would provide boater registration discounts of around 25 percent to those who also purchase and register either an emergency position indicator radio beacon (EPIRB) or personal locator beacons (PLB). The proposals are prompted by meetings between Florida Senator Joe Negron, Representative MaryLynn Magar and Blu and Carly Stephanos, parents of Austin Stephanos.

Austin and his friend, Perry Cohen, set out from Jupiter Inlet for an afternoon on the water on July 24. Two days later their 19-foot SeaCraft was found capsized 67 miles off the coast of Daytona Beach. Despite a US Coast Guard search and a privately-funded search that stretched into August, the boys were never found. Soon after the searches were called off the family of Austin Stephanos founded the AustinBlu Foundation aimed at promoting boater safety, education and technology. The organization’s first initiative is developing and garnering support for the bills, commonly known as the “beacon bills.” EPIRBS and PLBs both are designed to help rescuers quickly locate missing or stranded boaters, though they do have differences.

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 savings would cut the annual state fee from $33.50 to $28.75. PLBs can be bought for about $250. EPIRBS start at around $300 and can run upward of $800. If both bills make it through the upcoming Florida legislative session, which runs January through March, the law could go into effect next July 1. We here at Harrell and Harrell support any efforts to improve boater safety and will keep you updated on legislative efforts.