By Tamas Mondovics

Marking the unofficial end of the summer season, Labor Day has once again saw plenty of boaters taking time to enjoy local rivers, such as the Little Manatee and Alafia. While, safety is always a top priority, thanks Hermine, the fist hurricane that made landfall in Florida in 11 years, extra caution on local waterways was never more timely. The storm turned north of Tampa Bay ahead of the holiday weekend, but did not go unnoticed.

As the rain fell, boating became more dangerous and kept local law enforcement, fire rescue and first responders busy. One example was a 911 call about a capsized boat on the Alafia involving four individuals, two of whom had reportedly swam to shore, while the others were missing. Hillsborough County Fire Rescue crews responded to the scene with rescue boat 17. The Hillsborough County Sheriffs Office provided its aviation unit and a boat to assist in the search.

During the search, one of the missing boater was located further down the river after swimming to a dock.

Things got a bit more alarming when rescue personnel were told that the yet missing boater was not able to swim. Fire Rescue crews along with HCSO eventually located the fourth victim in the water, grasping a tree limb in very strong currents, courtesy of the flood staged river.

HCSO deputies pulled the victim onto their boat and took the victim to a nearby boat ramp for medical evaluation.

According to HCSO Public Information Officer Larry McKinnon, the victims told rescuers that they were going up river fighting a strong current when they tried to turn around, at which time their boat struck a branch and overturned.   “None on board the boat were wearing life jackets at the time of the incident,” McKinnon said adding that the incident ended without a loss of life, but not before reminding boaters to follow basic safety steps, including the wearing of a life jacket.

Aside from boating accidents, a recent USA Swimming Foundation data through Labor Day shows that there were 205 fatal child drownings in swimming pools and spas nationwide during summer 2016 (May 28-September 5).

So far this year, in Florida, 31 fatal child drownings had been reported, the Foundation said while drawing attention to the importance of following basic safety tips and safe boating guidelines prior to getting in or on the water. For more information or safety tips please visit, http://www.poolsafely.gov.