SARASOTA, Fla. (WFLA) – It’s expected to be an extra busy couple of days on the water this upcoming holiday weekend. State and local authorities want to make sure everyone remains safe.
“This is going to be probably the busiest Memorial Day we have ever seen. We have never had this many boats in the state of Florida and we certainly have never had this many boats in this particular area,” said FWC Public Information Officer Adam Brown.
Officials with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission tell us there were more boating accidents in May than any other month of the year in 2021. FWC also says 22% of all deadly boating accidents in Florida last year were the result of someone falling overboard.
Back in November 2020, one of those tragedies struck close to home for many boaters in Sarasota when 10-year-old Ethan Isaacs was killed during sailing practice after he was struck by his instructor’s unmanned boat.
8 On Your Side spoke with two of Sarasota Police Department’s Marine Patrol officers who were first on scene that day. It remains a difficult day to look back at for Officers Ron Dixon and Michael Skinner.
“By far, that was the most stress I had in a day out on marine patrol,” said Officer Dixon.
“That day, I think I was just in training mode but when I got home, that night, that was the first time in my 17-year career that I told my wife that it was a bad day. It was a real bad day,” said Officer Skinner.
Ethan’s parents, Greg and Mindy Isaacs, have been working with local lawmaker Rep. Fiona McFarland in hopes of enacting change and ultimately, saving lives.
“We want Ethan to be remembered. We want his life to have an impact on the world. Through our efforts and just improving boating safety, we think he will have a legacy,” Greg Isaacs told us earlier this year.
“Ethan’s Law” will require all water sports instructors in Florida to wear an engine cut-off switch. That way, if the operator of the boat falls overboard, the vessel won’t spiral out of control.
“The engine cut-off switch is really simple to use, there [are] the ones that come installed on the boat, there are also wireless ones. Ethan’s death was 100% preventable by use of the engine cut-off switch,” the 10-year-old’s father said.
The cut-off switch is a device Sarasota’s Marine Patrol officers use daily. They hope other boaters will remember Ethan’s story and do the same.
“We would love to see the emergency cut-off switch be just like a seatbelt. You just get used to it and you use it. The technology is there. There really is no reason why you shouldn’t be comfortable with it. It should be automatic where as soon as you leave the dock, you use it,” said Officer Dixon.
“Wearing the lanyard is not only safe, but it can prevent injury and death to yourself and family members,” said Officer Skinner. “The operator of the boat needs to take responsibility. We want those operators not to ask themselves ‘what could I have done differently’, we want them to say, ‘I was prepared in that emergency.'”
Ethan’s Law is on track to go into effect in July this year.