Coast Guard, partners to hold Columbus Day Weekend briefing

MIAMI – The Coast Guard is scheduled to hold a Columbus Day Weekend briefing to stress boating safety during the busy holiday weekend 10 a.m. Thursday at Base Support Unit Miami.

Representatives from the National Park Service and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission will also be taking part in the press briefing.

“Safety is the key to a fun day on the water during Columbus Day Weekend,” said Lt. John Corbett, commanding officer of Coast Guard Station Miami Beach. “Please be responsible and don’t operate your vessel if you’ve been drinking. We will be working with other law enforcement agencies to ensure compliance of all rules and regulations on the water. Be responsible, look out for others, and be safe.”

In light of the numerous boating accidents and fatalities that have occurred in South Florida during past holiday weekends, and to ensure the safety of the boating public, a unified command of law enforcement officers from the Coast Guard, NPS, FWC and the Miami-Dade Police Department will be patrolling the waters and conducting safety and boating-under-the-influence checks during the Columbus Day weekend.

Special regulations that will be in place Friday through Monday to protect boaters and the environment are:

  • A mandatory anchorage area will be designated. No boats will be allowed to anchor outside of the designated anchorage. Within this area, all vessels must maintain a slow speed and minimum wake.
  • You are responsible for your own safety. Boating safety is about more than just equipment. It’s about behavior and responsibility. Know the restricted areas . For details, visit http://www.nps.gov/bisc/planyourvisit/columbus-day-weekend.htm
  • No rafting (vessels tied together) greater than five vessels will be permitted.
  • Allow a minimum of 100 feet between rafting or individual boats for emergency access.

“We’re stressing while boating on Biscayne Bay, boaters are in a National Park and priorities for the weekend include protecting life, property and the natural resources of the park,” said Biscayne National Park Superintendent Mark Lewis. “With these goals in mind, we are asking everyone to ‘Stay Parked After Dark.’ As the sun sets it becomes more difficult to see swimmers in the water, to recognize other boats traversing the area and to avoid grounding your vessel in the shallow areas of the bay. By remaining on your vessel in the anchorage after dark, you may be saving your life, the lives of others, and the resources of the park.”

Numerous arrests and incidents have occurred over previous Columbus Day weekends. Two individuals lost their lives in tragic accidents in 2006 and three others were killed in 2002.

“Thankfully in 2008, we had a safe Columbus Day Weekend free of serious injuries,” said FWC Maj. Mike Edwards, commander in charge of South Region Sector B. “It’s our hope boaters are heeding the warnings and we can have a repeat of last year, where hundreds of Floridians came and enjoyed a secure and safe environment.”

Through marked and unmarked law enforcement patrols and boater cooperation, this year’s Columbus Day Weekend can be safe and fun.

Here are a few safety tips to remember before you head out this weekend:

  1. Don’t drink and boat. Be responsible with drinks aboard. Designate a “sober skipper” before things get out of hand.
  2. Remain anchored and on your vessel, particularly after dark. While no official curfew will be in place for the weekend, it is in your best interest to “Stay Parked After Dark.”
  3. Check your safety gear to ensure it works before you leave the docks. File a float plan with a friend or a marina, remember to wear your lifejackets, make sure you have flares and a working VHF-FM marine radio onboard. A float plan form can be found at http://www.d7publicaffairs.com/.
  4. Avoid groundings and know where you are going. Have navigational charts onboard and learn to read them before you head out on the water. Groundings are costly to your boat, engine and the environment.
  5. Avoid the shallow areas of the Featherbed Bank. These areas will be lit by strobe lights at night and flagged with yellow flags during the day.
  6. Be responsible with your trash and dispose of plastic bags properly. Garbage hurts our marine life and environment; it can cause damage to your boat and engine.

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