Fisherman on Suwannee River

Boater’s Body found in Suwannee River


The Tragedy and Hope of one Boater’s Story

The search and rescue for respected lawyer Robert Byerts ended tragically last week. On Sunday, he set off for a relaxing day on the water. By Tuesday his day trip had turned into a nightmare for his friends and family and a sad reminder for the boating community.

Missing Boater’s Body Found

On Sunday night March 12, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) began searching for the 58-year old Tallahassee lawyer who disappeared from his 17-foot Boston Whaler. The boat was found on the water with the engine running, but without anyone on board.

For three days, family, friends and co-workers struggled with the unanswered questions about their loved one. The FWC, along with the Lafayette, Dixie, and Columbia County Sheriff’s Offices dive crews, carefully searched the area. The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office also brought their side-scan sonar and K-9 team to assist with the search.

On the third day, they reluctantly acknowledged that the search and rescue had ended in a search and recovery, and retrieved his body from the Suwanee River north of Dorothy Land Boat Ramp.

Tragic Reminder of the Importance of Water Safety

Although the exact details of the accident and cause of death are not known at the time of this writing, the incident ironically coincides with the timing of the annual ‘Spring Aboard’ program sponsored by the FWC and the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators (NASBLA). This year’s drive to increase boater safety awareness runs the week immediately following his passing, March 19 – 25.

One of the primary components of the program is to remind boaters that because Florida has the highest number of boating accidents in the nation, legislation was passed to encourage enrollment in boating safety courses. As an incentive, enrollment in a course approved by both the FWC and NASBLA will reduce registration fees.

Completion of a course is mandatory for those born after 1988 and optional for those born prior to 1988. Upon successful completion of a course, a safety ID certifying completion of the course will be issued. If the boater is covered by Florida’s mandatory boater education law, an ID card will also be issued by the state of Florida.

Legacy of Robert Byerts

As friends and family mourn his absence, the community comes together to share memories of his contributions and character. He is fondly remembered as a valued professional at Bass Sox Mercer law firm with an individual style and sense of humor. He won the esteem of allies and adversaries alike.

In the bigger picture, through his death he joins the statistics of unfortunate water accidents in the Florida state record book. Although the autopsy and investigation will likely conclude he took all possible safety measures and succumbed to an unavoidable event, the high-profile nature of his loss could still motivate others to greater safety efforts. His story could be that last motivational prod one person needs to either obtain or refresh the boat safety training that prevents them from suffering a similar fate. His final legacy may be stirring others to action, saving a life he never even knew.