Unified Command to enforce Columbus Day Weekend safety and security

MIAMI – 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 numerous agencies, including 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.

“We’re stressing that, 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 Mark Lewis, superintendent of Biscayne National Park. “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.”

“We want everyone involved to have a fun and safe weekend,” said Lt. John Corbett, commanding officer of Coast Guard Station Miami Beach, Fla. “Captains are reminded of their responsibility regarding the safety of their passengers, operating their vessel sober, and following all marine regulations. There are going to be a lot of boats and people on the water, so please look out for one another. You are responsible for the safe operation of your vessel and for any damage caused by it.”

Dozens of 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 2007, we had a safe Columbus Day Weekend free of injuries,” said FWC Maj. Mike Edwards, South Region Sector B commander. “It’s our hope boaters are heeding the warnings and we can have a repeat of last year, where hundreds of Floridians come and enjoy a secure and safe environment.”

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.
* No more than five vessels may be tied off to each other at any time.
* Allow a minimum of 100 feet between rafting or individual boats for emergency access.

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

You are responsible for your own safety. Boating safety is about more than just equipment – it’s about behavior and responsibility.

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. 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 on board. A float plan form can be found at www.d7publicaffairs.com.

4. Groundings are costly to your boat, your engine and the environment. To avoid groundings and to know where you are going, have navigational charts onboard and learn to properly read them before you head out on the water.

5. Avoid the shallow areas of the Featherbed Bank. These areas will be lit at night and flagged with yellow flags during the day.

6. Help protect marine life, the environment and your boat engine. Dispose of trash and plastic bags properly.

Additional details can be found at http://www.nps.gov/bisc/planyourvisit/columbus-day-weekend.htm.

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