TAMPA, Fla. — The Coast Guard reminds Florida boaters Friday to exercise caution and to boat safe while enjoying New Year’s Day weekend.
The Coast Guard urges boaters not to launch or use fireworks aboard a boat as they can be mistaken as a sign of distress and needlessly attracting Coast Guard and other rescue resources.
“Every New Year’s Eve, Coast Guard personnel receive and respond to numerous reports of boaters firing emergency flares from their vessels,” said Lt. Jason Holstead, a Coast Guard Sector St. Petersburg command duty officer. “To appropriately search an area where a flare was reported requires a significant number of resources. If the report was an unintended false report it places our emergency crews in areas where they aren’t needed.”
Red or orange flares are internationally recognized as a signal of distress. It is a federal felony for anyone to knowingly and willfully communicate a false distress message to the Coast Guard or cause the Coast Guard to attempt to save lives and property when no help is needed. This includes, but is not limited to, firing flares or saying ‘Mayday, Mayday, Mayday’ on a VHF radio in a non-distress situation.
“The Coast Guard stresses that flares should only be fired to indicate distress when a boater feels they are in an emergency situation,” said Holstead.
Boaters are also reminded to stay well clear of fireworks displays staged from barges or shore side facilities. In an effort to increase the safety of boaters on the water this holiday weekend, the Coast Guard recommends the following:
- Boaters watching fireworks from the water should ensure they are not impeding navigable channels and displaying the correct navigational lighting associated with their activity.
- Stay informed. Be sure to check the local weather prior to departing the dock. Weather can change very rapidly and boaters should keep a watchful eye on the forecasted conditions. The public should monitor the National Weather Service, local television and radio reports. Boaters can monitor weather patterns, fog and developing storms on channel on VHF-FM marine-band radio. Small craft advisories are also available on channel 16.
- Always wear a life jacket. Since there is little time to reach for stowed vests when accidents occur, wearing one at all times reduces your risk of drowning. Federal law requires you to have a personal floatation device on board for each passenger.
- File a float plan. A float plan is simply letting family and friends know where you are going and your expected time of return. File a float plan with someone who is not getting underway with you and stick to the plan. If you change plans, contact the person. A float plan assists responders in the search of an overdue boater who may be in distress.
- Never boat under the influence. It is recommended that boaters have a designated sober operator, as it is illegal to operate a boat while under the influence of alcohol or drugs in every state. There are stringent penalties for violating BUI/BWI laws, which can include large fines, suspension or revocation of boat operator privileges and jail terms.