Miami-Dade County

County cracks down on large boat raft-ups

This 2002 file photo from the Columbus Day Regatta shows the tradition of floating parties that has Miami-Dade County cracking down on boat raft-ups.
This 2002 file photo from the Columbus Day Regatta shows the tradition of floating parties that has Miami-Dade County cracking down on boat raft-ups. FOR THE HERALD

Miami-Dade County is cracking down on boat raft-ups, mandating that a maximum of five vessels be tied together at one time.

Adopted Tuesday by the County Commission, the new rule targets the floating parties popular off Key Biscayne on weekends when boats can host parties elaborate enough to have deejays and liquor sponsors. Commissioner Xavier Suarez, who represents Key Biscayne, sponsored the ordinance, which includes the possibility of a 30-day jail sentence for repeat offenders.

Charles Press, Key Biscayne’s police chief, said marine squads must maneuver around clusters of raft-ups with as many as 20 vessels tied together. That makes it even harder to get a rescue boat to the scene if someone needs medical attention.

“I’m here because accidents happen,” Press said. “All we ask is for the opportunity to do our job.”

The measure governing county waters passed 11-1, with Commissioner Bruno Barreiro voting against. “I think you’re taking away a little bit” with the new rules, Barreiro said.

Facing resistance, Suarez agreed to drop a requirement that anchored boats sit at least 100 feet away from each other. Instead, the amended ordinance requires a 30-foot buffer. Several commissioners said they worried the measure was too tough for families interested in the comfort of a large tie-up on Biscayne Bay.

“We’ve had some incidents that have been very, very sad,” Commissioner Jose “Pepe” Diaz said of fatalities off Key Biscayne and elsewhere. “But we’ve got to be really smart when we do these things. We can’t hurt everybody.”

Commissioner Sally Heyman questioned why the raft-up limits were needed in isolated spots far from the popular anchorages of Key Biscayne and Miami Beach. “If you’re out by Elliot Key or out in open water,” she said, “then the issues raised by law enforcement or marine patrol really diminish.”

Police noted that Biscayne National Park already has rules limiting raft-ups to five vessels, with a required 100-foot buffer. Press, head of a county chiefs’ association, said it’s a mistake to think the boat clusters are only a Key Biscayne problem.

“It’s very hard to define where it’s a place where it would be OK to put 10 boats together,” he said.

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