Gasparilla Boaters Beware: Officer Out to Scuttle Drunken Pirates

TAMPA, Fla. – More than 50 law-enforcement officers, including crews from the U.S. Coast Guard, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) and the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Department, will partner to keep local waterways safe during the upcoming Gasparilla Day celebration. Law-enforcement officers will provide educational information to boaters, conduct safety inspections afloat and target boaters operating watercraft under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

Boating safety is a core responsibility for the U.S. Coast Guard and FWC’s Division of Law Enforcement. One look at the agencies databases on boating accidents makes the case that human error, and not equipment failure, causes the vast majority of boating accidents.

“Boating is a privilege many bay area families enjoy, but carries with it a serious responsibility to be safe. Carelessness, inattention or violating a navigation rule are the primary causes of boating accidents,” FWC veteran Officer Joanne Adams said.

To avoid problems created by careless operation and inattention, the FWC and U.S. Coast Guard recommend boaters always adhere to the following safety practices: always wear a properly-sized lifejacket and have one for each person aboard; never overload a vessel; occupants should never rapidly move; and secure gear to prevent capsizing; always use a designated operator who has not been consuming alcohol or other drugs; comply with all U.S. Coast Guard required safety equipment; ensure navigational lights are operational before leaving the dock; avoid “blinding” other operators by properly using searchlights; extinguish decorative lights after dark when going to and from the parade area.

“Turning out non-essential lighting helps preserve night vision, an important factor in safely operating a boat after dark,” Adams said.

Boaters also should maintain a proper lookout by constantly looking around the vessel and the vessel should be operated at a safe speed for the conditions present.

“Typically during Gasparilla there are a large number of boats within a confined space, coupled with potentially inexperienced mariners, equals a recipe for increased boating accidents,” said U.S. Coast Guard Lt. Richard Sansone. “Boaters are reminded to stay at least 50 feet from the parade vessels and never approach a moving vessel head on,” Sansone added.

Boaters are encouraged to file a float plan with a friend or family member, and have a working VHF radio and EPIRB on board. Each passenger should be told what to do in case an emergency arises, including how to use a VHF radio, and the location of life saving equipment and first-aid supplies.

“Understanding and applying these rules and making sure your boat is well-equipped and properly maintained will help ensure you and your family enjoy the Gasparilla holiday,” Adams said.

The Hillsborough chapter of Mothers against Drunk Driving will support the efforts of the multi-agency force by providing food for those working the boating safety detail.

More information on boating safety and the free Boat Smart safety course are available at MyFWC.com, click on boating.

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