Boat­ing Safety Week

Ob­ser­vance car­ries es­pe­cially poignant mes­sage this year.

Sun Sentinel Broward Edition - - FRONT PAGE - swa­ters@sun-sen­, Twit­ter@ Wa­ters Out­doors

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?”

Steve Wa­ters


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.

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