Coast Guard, partner agencies gear up for Columbus Day in South Florida

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MIAMI — The Coast Guard and partner state and local agencies held a Columbus Day weekend boating safety press conference at Coast Guard Base Miami Beach Friday stressing the importance of boating safely and a regulated navigation area which will be in effect for Columbus Day weekend.

Agency leaders discussed the importance of boating safety ahead of the upcoming Columbus Day weekend – one of the busiest recreational boating weekends in South Florida.  An important change this year is a regulated navigation area in the Intracoastal Waterway extending from the Rickenbacker Causeway to Black Point Marina and out to Sand Key.  Inside the zone boaters may not exceed 15-knots. Speed limits in the regulated navigation area will be strictly enforced and are being put into effect at midnight Saturday and will end Tuesday.  This area historically is a high-traffic area in Key Biscayne where many fatal accidents have occurred in the past.

Law enforcement personnel will also be closely monitoring waterways for intoxicated boaters.  Boating under the influence carries monetary fines to include possible imprisonment.  Each year thousands of boaters take to the South Florida waters over the Columbus Day weekend.  While fatalities over the long weekend have decreased over the last two years, Florida led the nation in boating fatalities and injuries in 2013. Boater inexperience and alcohol were two of the leading contributors to boating accidents and fatalities last year.

Boaters can help ensure a safe and enjoyable holiday weekend by following these helpful tips:

1. Don’t drink and boat. Be responsible with drinks aboard. Designate a “sober skipper” before departing the dock.

2. Check your safety gear to ensure it works. File a float plan with a friend or at a marina. A float plan form can be found at http://ift.tt/1lrgyd4. Remember to wear your lifejackets and make sure you have flares and a working VHF-FM marine radio onboard. Another potentially life-saving device to invest in is an Emergency Position-Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB).

3.  Take responsible actions if boating at night, such as ensuring vessels are well lit and reducing operating speeds.

4. Groundings are costly to your boat, your engine, and the environment. To avoid groundings make sure to have navigational charts or an electronic navigation system onboard and learn to properly use them before you head out on the water.

5. Help protect marine life, the environment and your vessel by disposing of garbage properly.  Litter in the water not only damages the marine environment and wildlife, but can also become lodged in vessel engines and mechanical systems causing extensive damage.

6. If your vessel runs aground contact the Coast Guard, local response partners or commercial on VHF-FM Channel 16.  Do not try to push or pull a vessel off a sandbar.

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