Sarasota Death May Inspire Boating Law Change

Todays News

Image courtesy McFarland office.

The death of a Sarasota boy in 2020 could soon inspire a change to Florida’s boating safety laws.

Legislation filed by Rep. Fiona McFarland, R-Sarasota, would add requirements for watersports instructors to wear killswitch devices so that motorboat engines will stop if they ever fall overboard. The freshman lawmaker began crafting legislation shortly after taking office with Greg and Mindy Isaacs, whose 10-year-old son Ethan died at a Sarasota youth sailing event.

“We can not only make our Florida waterways safer, but we can help honor Ethan’s memory,” McFarland said.

Both of Ethan’s parents spoke this week at a House Tourism, Infrastructure and Energy Subcommittee meeting in Tallahassee, where the bill received unanimous and bipartisan support.

Mindy Isaacs testified the parents thought little of leaving their children in the care of trained adults at the event. “We trusted the instructor would keep him safe,” she said. Instead, an accident that left the instructor overboard and the boat spiraling out of control. 

Greg Isaacs said the legislation, which also increases boater education on the use of engine shut-off devices, could prevent a future similar tragedy.

“This bill is a simple no cost solution to this issue,” he said.

Marine industry professionals and civic boating groups all offered support to the bill. Rep. James Buchanan, R-Venice, serves on the committee that heard the bill, and suggested the legislation would be critical in protecting individuals in local waters. He talked about spending his own youth a 16-foot skiff in Sarasota Bay.

“I know it is one of the most difficult bays in the state to navigate. Now as a father, I can’t imagine what you guys are going through,” he told the Isaacs. “Our entire community grieves with you.”

The bill must be heard by two other House committees before reaching the floor. Sen. Joe Gruters, R-Sarasota, is carrying a companion bill in the Senate, where the bill awaits a first hearing.

Image courtesy McFarland office.

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