Boating Safety Week
Observance carries especially poignant message this year.
National Safe Boating Week, which starts Saturday, takes on added meaning this year in South Florida given the accident that killed Miami Marlins pitcher Jose Fernandez and two others last September.
Under the influence of alcohol and cocaine, Fernandez was driving his 32-foot center console at 65 mph at 3 a.m. when he crashed into the north jetty at Government Cut, according to official reports.
Some of the lessons fromthe accident are obvious, others less so.
“Unfortunately, usually when there’s a boating accident there’s two factors, alcohol and speed,” Joe Kessling said. “Drugs, alcohol and speed are a mixture for disaster.
“[Fernandez] probably wasn’t aware of the jettys like he should have been,” he added. “It’s sad. It’s a senseless waste of precious human life.”
Kessling, of Davie, is a recreational fisherman who spends much of his free time going after dolphin and other offshore species on his boat Off Duty.
“Tome there are two kinds of boaters, the people that fish, which is what I do, and I’m always very cognizant ofmy surroundings, and the recreational boaters who go to the sandbars and drink,” Kessling said.
“Iwould hope that people are always cautious. I hang out with a lot of good people, andwe don’t do the booze cruise.”
Capt. Bouncer Smith runs fishing charters out of Government Cut, and hewell knows the damage that speed, alcohol and jettys can cause.
Smith, of Miami Beach, said he has pulled people fromthewater after their boats hit rocks at Government Cut’s north jetty. Often it’s because theywere trying to enter the inlet without going through the marked channel.
“The problem is people don’t recognize that the channel markers that are there for the big ships are for their boats, too,” Smith said.
Smith said going fast around inlets is never a good idea regardless of the time of day.
“The truth of the matter is, inlets require extreme caution day or night,” Smith said. “You have heavy boat traffic, frequently confused seas and a lot of floating debris that goes out with the tide, like big creosote fenders and pilings fromdocks.”
Smith added that it’s not unusual to have kayaks and personal watercraft, which can be hard to see, come around jettys while powerboats are running out.
“There’s too much stuff to go fast,” he said.
SaidKessling: “When you have to be more careful is when you’re going in and out of inlets because of the swimmers and the Jet Skis.”
Capt. Chris Lemieux, who fishes out of Boynton Beach Inlet, said sea andweather conditions are important to consider for boaters heading offshore.
A strong east wind and a hard outgoing tide can createwaves in an inlet thatwould challenge the most skilled boater.
“The main thing is if somebody’s going out of an inlet that’s sketchy, if you don’t feel comfortable doing it, don’t do it,” Lemieux said.
“There’s too many nice days to go fishing.”
But boaters can run into trouble even on a nice day, which is why Lemieux is big on being prepared.
One thing he didwas put two powerful bilge pumps in his 27-foot center console to pump outwater.
“All it takes is one bilge pump not towork and you take onwater, then you’re done,” Lemieux said. “Having two bilge pumps is huge. I have two of them that are 2,000 gallons an hour. A lot of people have one 800-gallon-an-hour bilge pump.
“You always need a backup bilge pump. You can be fishing on a calm day and the livewell overflows.”
Or you can have a cooling hose come off your boat’s engine and flood the boat, which is what happened to some boaters that Lemieux came across a couple of weeks ago while running to the Bahamas with a friend.
“Wewere 20 miles fromWest End andwe see a boat sitting there and its bow looked high in the air,” Lemieux said. “So I turned to channel16 real quick and I hear, ‘Mayday, mayday, I’m taking onwater!’ ”
After confirming via theVHF radio that itwas the boat they were looking at, Lemieux and his buddy ran over and got two men fromtheir life raft, thenwatched as the 44-foot SeaRay sank straight to the bottom.
“Theywere leaving the Bahamas to go to Lauderdale,” Lemieux said. “They had a cooling hose come off and had only one bilge pump and it couldn’t keep up.”
Lemieux said having life jackets with reflective tape, a whistle and a strobe light will help you get found easier if you fall overboard or your boat sinks at night. Alife raft at $800 to $1,000 and an emergency position indicating radio beacon or EPIRB, which sends a signal to a satellite when you run into trouble, will keep you alive and help you get found quickly.
“If you’re already spending $100,000 on a boat,” Lemieux said, “what’s another $1,500 on an EPIRB, a life raft and life jackets?”
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Officer Amy Moore looks on as Liz Schmidt, with the WaterSmart Palm Beach County Coalition, demonstrates wearing an inflatable life jacket at a National Safe BoatingWeek news conference Thursday at Phil Foster Park in Riviera Beach.