The calendar says summer officially starts June 21 but Memorial Day weekend marks the unofficial start of the summer season in the Florida Keys.
Perhaps the busiest holiday weekend of the year on Keys waters, marine officers with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation
Commission and Monroe County Sheriff's Office will be watching the waves from Saturday through Monday.
"It should be as busy for us as it has been in years past," said FWC Officer Bobby Dube, an agency spokesman.
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The 48 FWC patrol officers cruising Monroe County seas will be working 10-hour shifts with no scheduled days off during the period.
In 2015 alone, officers charged 14 boaters at Islamorada's Whale Harbor — home to the popular anchoring spot known as the Sandbar off mile marker 84. Hundreds of boats typically descend on the flats off the main harbor channel.
"We'll focus on all the high-use areas where boaters congregate throughout the Keys," Dube said, including anchoring party spots off the Lower Keys and Marathon's Vaca Cut.
"Picking a designated boat operator who doesn't drink always is a good idea," Dube said. "Have somebody check all the safety like personal floatation devices and make sure that flares are not expired."
Unlike the lobster mini-season in July, no out-of-county FWC officers are available for support. "It's busy everywhere else in the state, too." Dube said.
Saturday is typically the most hectic of the three-day weekend on the water but weather often plays a role.
A high-pressure system building over the southeast U.S. coast could push winds up to 15 or 20 knots today, tapering off to 10 to 15 knots by the holiday weekend, National Weather Service forecaster Mike Rapsik said Tuesday.
"We're getting into the summer season which means it's moistening up," Rapsik said. "In the Keys, you might get a shower and you might not."
The probability of rain, as of today, basically stands at 20 percent through the weekend. Highs could hit a summer-bake 90 degrees on Saturday.
Memorial Day weekend ranks as a leading visitation for the Keys although hospitality professionals note that it isn't as hectic as
Christmas-to-New Year's or the lobster mini-season.
"All our boats are fully booked for Memorial Day but we weren't getting the nonstop calls we got last year," said Levon Conrad, manager of Atlantis Boat Rentals in Key Largo. "Summer weekends are always busy for us but the weekdays seem a little slower than they have been."
Vacationers definitely should book Keys rooms in advance for Memorial Day but last-minute travelers could get lucky.
"Memorial Day is a good, strong holiday weekend but it's a one of our busiest weekends," said Daniel Samess, chief executive of the Greater Marathon Chamber of Commerce. "There still may be some vacancies."
Booking inquiries for Memorial Day weekend peaked a few weeks ago, he noted.
"We're seeing the trend we saw before the recession, with people planning ahead rather than waiting for the last minute," Samess said.
Resorts in the Upper Keys "are starting to fill up but there's still some spot availability right now," said one travel booker.