Expect Congested Waterways July Fourth Weekend | Environment

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Expect Congested Waterways July Fourth Weekend
Expect Congested Waterways July Fourth Weekend

Nearly 1 million recreational vessels are registered in Florida, and thousands more are brought in by tourists each year to enjoy the state’s boating opportunities. Many thousands of these boats will be cruising the St. Johns River, the Intracoastal Waterway and the many popular lakes and rivers in the northeast and central part of the state while celebrating the July Fourth weekend.

Unfortunately, these busy holiday weekends too often end tragically for some boaters. And these tragedies are usually completely preventable.

“If boaters practice three main safety tips, their chances of having a safe, fun and positively memorable time on the water will increase exponentially,” said Maj. Paul Ouellette, the FWC’s Northeast Region law enforcement commander.

1.            Pay attention to what you’re doing and what’s going on around you.

2.            Don’t drink or take drugs and operate a vessel.

3.            Wear a life jacket or at the very least, have life jackets within easy reach.

Ouellette said every available FWC officer in the FWC’s Northeast Region will be out this weekend to help boaters stay safe.

“Obviously, there will be increased boating traffic on the Fourth, and when you combine that with people being out on boats partying and out at night to watch fireworks displays, there’s more of a risk of mishap,” Ouellette said. “What we’re saying is to stay sober, be careful, and pay attention to everything going on around you on the water.”

Statistics show that the No. 1 cause of  boating accidents in Florida is careless operation – people who are not paying attention to what they’re doing while operating a vessel. That means everything from watching where you’re going to obeying manatee and other speed-restricted zones, to keeping an eye on weather conditions, to monitoring the vessel’s occupants’ actions, and making sure you have all the required boating safety equipment on board and readily available.

Being under the influence of drugs or alcohol is another factor that contributes to all too many boating tragedies.

“For everyone’s safety, boaters who intend to drink or take drugs should always designate a sober, qualified person to operate the vessel,” he said. “But even those not operating a vessel should drink only in moderation.

“A lot of injuries and even deaths occur when passengers who are drinking fall and get hurt, or fall overboard and drown,” Ouellette said.

The FWC encourages people to report impaired or suspected impaired boaters to the FWC’s toll-free Wildlife Alert Hotline at 888-404-FWCC (3922). Callers may stay anonymous and are eligible for a reward if their information leads to an arrest. But more importantly, reporting impaired boaters may save lives.   

One more thought to keep in mind: If people would simply wear life jackets, many lives would be saved each year. The law states that there must be one properly fitted, U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket for each person on board the vessel, and that children under the age of 6 must be wearing theirs. If people are not wearing them, the life jackets should at least be easily accessible in one step, not stowed away in a compartment.   

For more on how to be safe while boating, go to MyFWC.com/Boating.

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