Miami-Dade County

Coast Guard says lights not needed on jetty where José Fernández died in boat crash

Anonymous boater gives insight on the perils of jetties

A local boater that requested to remain anonymous gives insight on the perils of navigating Government Cut at night a day after Jose Fernandez and two friends perish during a late night boat accident at the north jetty on Sun., Sep. 25, 2016.
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A local boater that requested to remain anonymous gives insight on the perils of navigating Government Cut at night a day after Jose Fernandez and two friends perish during a late night boat accident at the north jetty on Sun., Sep. 25, 2016.

The Coast Guard on Thursday rejected calls for warning lights on the South Beach jetty where Marlins star José Fernández crashed his boat on a drunken early-morning trip last year that killed him and two passengers.

“The Captain of the Port of Miami has determined the existing aids that mark safe navigation through the channel, which include color coded lighted buoys and lighted range markers, to be sufficient,” the Coast Guard’s Miami Beach station said in a press release. “This determination was endorsed by the Coast Guard’s Seventh District commander.”

Miami-Dade County’s police department, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio and some recreational boaters called for navigational lights on the unlit jetty, which peeks above the waves during a high tide and can blend into the inky horizon. Fernández crashed his power boat around 3 a.m. on Sept. 25, 2016 on the northern jetty. The rocky breakwater and a jetty to the south flank a lighted channel used to guide boats to and from PortMiami.

Past studies concluded the jetties aren’t hazards for skippers following standard navigational rules, but the county’s marine police unit disagreed when the Coast Guard asked for input following the death of Fernández and his two passengers, Emilio Macias, 27, and Eduardo Rivero, 25.

In rejecting the need for lights on the jetties, the Coast Guard concluded that a skipper should be able to navigate the area safely while using other lighted markers to avoid hazards.

“We cannot stress enough to all waterway users to adhere to existing channel aids and use all available means to navigate safely on the water,” Capt. Megan Dean, commander of the Miami Beach station, said in a statement.

State investigators concluded Fernández was at the wheel of his 32-foot SeaVee powerboat at the time of the 2016 crash, legally intoxicated and with cocaine in his system. His boat’s throttle was pushed all the way forward, a maneuver needed to reach maximum speed.

Those details weren’t made public until months after the crash, and Fernández’s death on the jetty brought attention to a rocky breakwater that frequently spooks local anglers and recreational boaters.

Bruce Marx, a boater and Coral Gables lawyer, has urged the Coast Guard to put lights on the jetties, participating in an online survey the agency launched as part of its review after Fernández’s death. While Marx said he doesn’t believe lights would have prevented an intoxicated Fernández from crashing his boat onto the rocks, he does think making the jetties easier to spot would be a big help for inexperienced boaters out there at night.

“I do not see the harm in adding some sort of acceptable lighting scheme to better identify the jetties at night,” said Marx, a longtime owner of a 31-foot Contender powerboat. “At the very least, some quick flashers at the tip of both jetties would increase safety tremendously and would not create any additional hazards.”

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