Water Safety Takes Center Stage As Summer Boating Season Begins

By Tamas Mondovics

Considered by many as the one of the busiest boating weekends and the start to the summer boating season, Memorial Day weekend arrived with perfect weather for Bay area residents.

To match the traffic and to keep boaters safe on local waterways, members of the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office Marine Unit were also out in full force.

The Marine Unit, part of the Homeland Security Division, was enforcing Florida boating laws, monitoring slow and no-wake zones, looking for boaters under the influence, patrolling restricted areas and performing boating safety checks.

Deputies found that most boaters have more than enough life jackets on their boats for the number of people they are carrying, except when a guest unexpectedly brings a child on the boat.

“When that person with a child shows up at the dock and the vessel Captain fails to have the appropriate life jackets to fit the child, he is in violation Florida State Statute,” said HCSO Public Information Officer, Corporal Larry McKinnon.

McKinnon added that Florida State Statute also requires that all children 6 years old and younger must actively wear a life jacket when on a boat under 26 feet in length.

To assist boasters who find themselves in these situations, HCSO has initiated Operation Safe Bay with the generous financial support of Port Tampa Bay and West Marine Pro who together provided 100 life jackets that will be stocked at three separate boat ramps in Hillsborough County including E.G. Simmons Park Boat Ramp in Ruskin, Williams Park Boat Ramp in Riverview and at the Salty Sol Fleishman at the Gandy Blvd Public Boat Ramp.

Boaters are to utilize an honor system and are allowed to borrow life jackets to ensure the safety of each child. The life jackets will be available in two sizes “under 50 lb.” and “50 lb. to 90 lb.”

“Once the boaters return to the ramp, they can return the vest for the next user,” McKinnon said.

If boaters have any questions regarding boating safety or boating laws, they can contact the Sheriff’s Office. Detailed information is available at www.myfwc.com.