New airboat regulations possible for Florida commercial captains

Florida Legislature debates bill mandating more safety

By James Sparvero - Reporter

CHRISTMAS, Fla. - If the Florida Legislature agrees on new regulations for airboat rides, lawmakers have Captain Derrick Lockhart's support.

"It's not going to change much of what we're already doing," said Lockhart, the owner of Midway Airboat Rides."If I've got to go take a boater safety course one time and I'm done, no, I don't see a big deal."

To Lockhart, House Bill 1211 would additionally mean always carrying his ID and certifications.

The commercial captain is already certified by the U.S. Coast Guard and trained to perform CPR.

Making all commercial captains complete a state-approved safety course is at the heart of the debate in Tallahassee.

The bill is nicknamed "Ellie's law."

It's a direct response to the airboat death last year of 22-year-old Ellie Goldenberg, an aspiring Broadway singer and University of Miami graduate who drowned after a crash in the Everglades.

"I remember that happening. It's horrible," Lockhart said of recent airboat-related fatalities.

"You need somebody trained to respond to these injuries," co-sponsor of the bill, Rep. Joe Abruzzo, D-Boca Raton, recently told CBS News.

Abruzzo said Goldenberg's death is one of seven fatalities and 102 serious airboat-related injuries in just the last three years.

"There are some people who are operating out there that are not scrutinized in the same manner we are," Lockhart said of the current regulations.

He told News 6 that lesser-regulated commercial captains are operating right across SR-50 from his company in Christmas.

"They can kind of do their thing, and if they file the correct paperwork every five years to renew their license, they can probably skirt under the radar," Lockhart said.

Along with Lockhart, lawmakers also have the support of the south Florida company involved in Goldenberg's death.

The bill continues its path through the Florida Legislature.

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