Guest Column: Boating safety this summer
David B. Shoar, Sheriff
St Johns County, FL
It’s great to be sheriff of a county that has so many wonderful assets. Among the top recreational opportunities is both saltwater and freshwater boating. There are very few places in Florida where boats can be launched on the Intracoastal Waterway with access to the ocean and then just a couple of dozen miles to the west you can launch into the St. Johns River for some of the finest boating in the nation.
St. Johns County is truly a Mecca for boaters.
Our Marine Unit partners with the Florida Wildlife Commission as well as the U.S. Coast Guard to enforce boating regulations and to promote safe boating. Unfortunately, on occasion, our dive team and aviation unit are also called upon to look for victims of boating accidents or to hunt for missing watercraft or people. So this month I would like to suggest some rules for safe boating.
First and foremost be weather wise. Check the forecasts for possible storm activity and if you are bound for the ocean determine if the surf conditions may have waves that could put your size boat at risk of capsizing. No matter where you may be boating if you notice darkening clouds, changing winds and sudden drops in temperature, play it safe and head for shore.
Develop a float plan. Inform a family member, friend or the staff at your marina where you are going and how long you intend to be gone. You should also give them the name of the captain and all passengers, boat type and registration and the types of communication and signal equipment you have on board.
Use common sense. Be alert at all times and operate at a safe speed for the conditions you encounter. Be sure to follow the navigational buoys and markers that have been placed for your safety. Steer clear of larger vessels that may not be able to stop and turn in time to avoid collisions. Make sure there is another person on board who is familiar with all aspects of the boat’s operation, handling and safety equipment who could get back to shore in case the primary skipper is injured or incapacitated in any way.
It is required by the U.S. Coastguard that personal flotation devices (PFD) or as they are most commonly known, lifejackets, of the proper size be on board for everyone on your boat. In Florida, children under 5 must where a right sized PFD whenever the boat is moving. All boats larger than 16 feet must also have a float that can be thrown should someone fall overboard. Did you know that a majority of victims who drown after a boat is in an accident or capsizes were recovered not wearing a lifejacket?
In Florida anyone born on or after January 1, 1988 who operates a vessel powered by 10 horsepower or more must pass an approved boater safety course and have in his/her possession a photographic boating safety education identification card issued by the State Wildlife Commission.
Lastly, a word of caution about alcohol use while boating. Boat operators under the influence of alcohol double the odds for being involved in an accident. Most alcohol related boating accidents do not result from collisions but from falls on deck or overboard. In Florida boat operators found to have a blood alcohol content .08 or higher will be charged with a BUI. For boat operators under the age of 21 that BAC level for charges drops to .02.
I truly enjoy boating in the waters of our beautiful county and I hope you do as well. Thank you for reading my monthly columns and I always welcome and appreciate your comments and suggestions. You can also find much more information on a variety of topics from your Sheriff’s Office website at www.sjso.org. Be sure to also follow us on Facebook and Twitter. My email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. I look forward to hearing from you and have a safe and fun summer.