With the Labor Day holiday considered the “last big party weekend of the summer,” water cops will be out in full force to enforce a “zero tolerance” policy.
“We have spent the last year on education, promoting safety, sending pamphlets,” said Key Biscayne Police Chief Charles Press. “It’s time for some affirmative action to ensure compliance because there are still people who feel they can do what ever they want and they put innocent lives in danger.”
The Coast Guard, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and South Florida law enforcement agencies will team up on drunken boating and lack of equipment.
The push for safer waters came after a series of deadly boating accidents including a three-boat crash July 4, 2014, that killed four people and injured seven. In recent months there was a deadly boat crash in Fort Lauderdale that killed a 17-year old St. Thomas Aquinas High School senior and injured five others.
Coast Guard Lt. Mike Cortese, commanding officer station Miami Beach, said Thursday that boating safety needs to begin at the dock.
“Make sure you are always ready for whatever comes,” he said.
Here is the Coast Guard’s boating-safety checklist:
▪ Always wear life jackets. “Having a life jacket onboard and not wearing it is like having a seat belt in a car and not having it on.” Coast Guard Lt. Mike Cortese said boaters should never have a plan of putting on their jacket if there is an accident. “Then it’s too late,” he said, adding that over 80 percent of boating deaths happen to people not wearing life jackets.
▪ Make a float plan. Before going out on a boat, a person should always write down important information including what kind of boat, who will be on it and where will it be going. The plan should be left with friends or family. “If we don’t you’re missing, we’re not going to start looking for you,” Cortese said.
▪ Always boat sober. Alcohol is the No. 6 cause of death in boating accidents, Cortese said. If you are going to drink, always designate someone who is not drinking to operate the boat. “Drinking on the water is much different than drinking on land,” he said. “It is much more dangerous on the water.”
▪ Use an Emergency Positioning Indicating Radio Beacon. This a small piece of equipment that can help the Coast Guard locate a vessel through satellite signals. They are not required on recreational boats, but are suggested. “We like to say it takes the search out of search and rescue,” Cortese said.
▪ Make sure Charter boats are properly licensed. Whenever someone is going out on a chartered boat, the person should always ask the captain to show their license and capabilities. During Columbus Day 2013, a suspected unlicensed charter boat sank in Biscayne Bay with more than 30 people on board. Everyone was rescued safely.
▪ Speed kills. While there are no special speed zone alerts like the one used on July 4 to control traffic as boats went back to the marinas, Cortese said captains always need to travel at a safe speed. In boats, a safe speed varies depending on the type of vessel, water conditions and other boat traffic. “It’s much harder on a boat to feel how fast you are going as opposed to in a car because in a car you have a speedometer and things are passing you all the time,” he said.
▪ Check all of your equipment before you go on the water. Prudent boaters make sure safety equipment is ready to use including flares and the fire extinguisher. “Being on board is only half of the equation,” he said. “Being serviceable and ready to use is the most important part.”
▪ Get the App. Cortese suggests all boaters with smart phones download the Coast Guard app. The App is a “one-stop shop” for boating safety. The app offers everything from reporting if a boat is in distress to how to create a float plan.
For more information on boating safety visit www.uscgboating.org.