Miami-Dade County

Party boat capsizes; 30 people tossed into Biscayne Bay

After 30 people and a dog flipped into Biscayne Bay when their party boat capsized, authorities on Monday will continue to investigate the craft.

Was it homemade? Was it licensed? Was it overloaded? Was there a captain?

The group of friends, including several students from the University of Miami and Miami Dade College, along with Brickell-area workers, had hired the 45-foot private catamaran on Sunday. They were heading back from a sand bar when the boat started leaning forward and taking on water off Key Biscayne.

According to the Coast Guard, the boat capsized around 5:30 p.m. within view of downtown Miami. The incident is the latest mishap linked to the water-logged festivities on Biscayne Bay during the holiday weekend. In the past, there have been deaths. There were no major injuries in Sunday’s capsizing and plenty of helpers.

As the boat began to sink, nearby boaters rushed to pitch in, helping the first responders pull people from the bay. The Coast Guard led the rescue effort, with several agencies pitching in, including Miami Fire-Rescue, Miami Beach police and Sea Tow.

Officials credited the quick rescue to the cooperation between the good Samaritans and responding agencies. All 30 people — and the one canine — were rescued in a matter of minutes, Coast Guard Station Miami Beach Commanding Officer Mike Cortese said.

It was unclear why the boat began taking on water near the Miami Seaquarium off the Rickenbacker Causeway. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, tasked with investigating the accident, is looking at whether overcrowding may have played a role.

According to commission spokesman Jorge Pino, the catamaran may have been an illegal charter that transported people to and from Nixon Beach for $20 per person. There may not have been a real “captain” either.

“We don’t believe he was a licensed captain at this point,” Pino said.

The crudely made vessel appeared to have been assembled by “many different things.”

Once safely on land, the partyers in their bathing suits appeared to be in good spirits, with one sporting a green children’s inner tube shaped like a turtle, which he grabbed from the boat as it began to take on water.

Many of the passengers managed to grab their belongings but several were shoeless following the ordeal.

“It was no big deal,” said a partygoer who did not want to be identified.

Sunday night, the party boat remained partially submerged in up to eight feet of water. The Coast Guard said boaters should exercise caution.

Miami Herald news partner CBS4 contributed to this report.

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