South Florida

Boating during the holiday? You’ll have lots of company: cops

Don't drink and drive on water this weekend

Miami-Dade Police Marine Patrol Unit officer Lupo Jimenez elaborates on some of the measures being taken Memorial Day Weekend to ensure boating safety.
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Miami-Dade Police Marine Patrol Unit officer Lupo Jimenez elaborates on some of the measures being taken Memorial Day Weekend to ensure boating safety.

Boaters, beware.

You will be watched extra closely this weekend — especially when it comes to drinking and driving on the water.

Law enforcement officials gathered Thursday at Watson Island off Miami Beach in an attempt to keep Memorial Day Weekend safe in South Florida.

“Stay boat sober,’’ said Maj. Alfredo Escanio of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. “On a weekend like this, if you are operating your vessel under the influence of alcohol or drugs, you will be arrested.

“Be responsible and have a designated driver.’’

And wear your life jackets.

“Upwards of 60 percent of fatalities are because people didn’t have a life jacket,’’ Escanio said.

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Maj. Alfredo Escanio, commander of the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission, speaks during a news conference at Watson Island on Thursday, May 25, 2017. Sebastián Ballestas Miami Herald

Lupo Jimenez, an officer with the Miami-Dade Police Marine Patrol Unit, said law enforcement officers will concentrate on “drinking and speed’’ because of the thousands of boaters who will hit the water this weekend as National Safe Boating Week comes to a close.

“Most serious boating accidents include one or the other or both,’’ he said.

“For that reason we’re establishing a boating-under-the-influence detail where we’ll have alcohol or BUI experts on our vessels to conduct tests as we stop people we believe have been drinking. We’ll have experts on board to analyze you, and if we determine you’re under the influence, you will be arrested.

“Zero tolerance this weekend.’’

Jimenez said officers will begin patrolling the water early Saturday morning and will include “DUI experts that normally work the road and are trained to do the same preliminary tests they do on land.’’

Any boat operators determined to have been drinking alcohol will be taken to one of two mobile processing centers — one at Key Biscayne and the other possibly at Haulover Park Marina.

“If they’re over the legal limit — it’s .08, the same as for driving on the road — they’ll be processed and then taken to jail. We’re not going to tolerate any intoxication.’’

To complicate matters, Miami Beach will stage the Air and Sea Show on Saturday and Sunday. The show, which will feature military helicopters and jets, is free to the public and is expected to draw even more boats to Miami-Dade County.

A safety zone, prohibiting vessels from entering the zone while show crews are performing or practicing, will be in effect from 8:30 a.m. Friday until 5 p.m. Sunday. The zone will consist of the Atlantic Ocean waters starting about half a mile east of Collins Park, then directly south about three miles to the government cut north jetty, west to the shoreline of South Pointe Park and north along the shoreline to Collins Park.

“There will be a lot more people than we’re used to,’’ Jimenez said.

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From left to right, Lt. Raymond Heberlig, MK1 Ray Johnson and BM1 Andrew de Coste patrol Biscayne Bay on Thursday, May 25, 2017. before the start of Memorial Day weekend. Sebastián Ballestas Miami Herald

More than 60,000 boats are registered in Miami-Dade County and more than a million in the state of Florida. You must be 15 or older to operate a boat, and those born after Jan. 1, 1988, are required to take a boater safety course.

The 2016 Boating Accidents Statistical Report, released last week by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, cites that Florida led the nation in boating accidents with 671. The next closest state: California, with 369.

The report also states that Broward County reported 38 accidents in 2016, with Miami-Dade reporting 67. There were 67 state boating fatalities last year.

South Florida has had a surge in boating accidents and deaths, including last weekend’s flurry of crashes that sent 11 to hospitals. The incidents included a boat explosion in South Miami-Dade, and a personal water craft collision with a boat in Miami.

In Fort Lauderdale, two people were killed last Saturday when a catamaran crashed into their vessel from behind.

Another accident on Tuesday off Dania Beach resulted in two deaths when two men were thrown off a boat that capsized.

Jimenez also said that Miami-Dade County has established an ordinance that allows no more than five boats to be tied together, with a minimum of 30 feet between groups of boats (100 feet in national park areas).

“When you have a large congregation of boats it prevents law enforcement and rescue personnel to access emergencies,’’ Jimenez said.

The Coast Guard has created a “boating safety mobile app” that can be downloaded for free. Go to http://www.uscg.mil/mobile/ for more information.

A boat explosion on Sunday in South Miami-Dade sent four people to trauma centers, Miami-Dade Fire Rescue said.

Tips to keep safe

▪  Wear a life jacket.

▪  Have marine GPS on board.

▪  Follow a float plan and tell family and friends where you’re going.

▪  Check the weather before venturing into the ocean.

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