Law requires no training for most Florida boaters
TAMPA (FOX 13) - Florida leads the nation in boating accidents year after year, and two-thirds of the operators in deadly accidents have no formal boating education.
Isabel Castellanos has committed her life to reducing fatalities and increasing awareness after her son Ozzie died in an accident 11 years ago.
“If you met him, you’d say what an incredible kid,” Isabel said. “They see the picture of my son at a dentist and a doctor’s office. Everybody knows him. And (after seeing his picture on her necklace) they ask me how do I know Ozzie? I say I’m the mother."
Ozzie Castellanos was a 19-year-old lifeguard when he rescued a man who was trapped underwater and saved him with CPR in front of a crowd of onlookers.
“I was screaming ‘That’s my son!’ That’s incredible. I can’t believe it.”
But Ozzie -- or Osmany, as his friends called him -- was just 23 when his life was tossed away on a boat full of people.
Isabel said the driver made a quick turn. Ozzie was thrown from the boat and struck by the propellers. He was not wearing a life vest and none of the 11 people on board could save him.
"A lot of people in this country don’t understand the pain of a mother. People think I should be over it. I’ll never be over the death of my son.”
That's how and why she channeled her grief into a call for change, and pressed the legislature to deliver Osmany's Law.
“If you drive a car, you have to take a test. You have to learn how to drive,” she said. “For boating, there's nothing! Go buy it, no insurance. That's OK. Buy a boat, take it out.”
The original idea behind Osmany's Law was to eventually require anyone who operates a boat to take a basic boating and safety class.
Experienced captains like Woody Gore say those classes are certainly needed. It struck him when he took the Coast Guard exam.
"I thought I knew all about a boat, and navigation, and lights and markers,” said Gore. “Geez, I didn't know nothing.”
But Florida's boating lobby resisted. Former state lawmaker Dwight Dudley said it has a lot of clout.
"Clearly there are interests, moneyed interests that can influence the process," he said.
“You go to one politician, and [they say] ‘I don’t know about boating,’” said Isabel. “It’s all about money. It’s all about power.”
While the original idea was to require all boat operators to take a class, state lawmakers watered down Osmany's Law. Instead of phasing it in, they dialed it back to boaters born after 1988 -- exempting many boaters across the state.
Isabel was not aware of those changes until we met and discussed the law.
"You gave me a surprise. It’s OK. I'm glad you did because you opened my eyes,” she said.
She said she will resume her fight to increase requirements for boater education.
"And if it takes me forever I will. You’ll see it,” she insisted.
Isabel has also started 'Ozzies Angels,' which has taught hundreds of kids to swim.
Last year, Florida reported 766 boating accidents and 67 fatalities. Statistically, July has been the deadliest month.