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Contact: Susan Gonshor, 305-230-1144, x018
Large crowds of boaters are expected in Biscayne National Park over the upcoming Columbus Day Weekend, October 8 - 11, 2010. Over 100 Law Enforcement and Emergency Medical Services personnel from the National Park Service and partner agencies, including US Coast Guard, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Miami-Dade Police Department, and Miami-Dade Fire Rescue, will be on the water and in the marinas to step up efforts to protect park resources and promote visitor safety.
“We want everyone to have a safe and sane weekend.” states Mark Lewis, Biscayne National Park Superintendent. “Boating safety is about more than just equipment…it’s about behavior and responsibility as well.” Safety inspections and BUI (Boating Under the Influence) checks at public boat ramps and in the channels leading from these ramps to the Bay will be conducted throughout the weekend. Unfortunately, BUIs have resulted in several deaths, numerous injuries and scores of arrests and fines over past Columbus Day Weekends. Intoxilizers that measure blood alcohol levels will once again be used as an aid to ensuring a safe weekend for all.
A few common sense safety tips to follow include:
- Don't drink and boat. Be responsible with drinks aboard. Designate a "sober skipper" before departing the dock.
- Remain anchored and on your vessel, particularly after dark. While no official curfew will be in place for the weekend, it is in your best interest to "stay parked after dark." If you are still on the water at sunset, stay there to avoid the increased hazards of operating a boat at night.
- Check your safety gear to ensure it works. File a float plan with a friend or at a marina. A float plan form can be found at www.floatplancentral.org. The required safety equipment that must be carried on all vessels includes life jackets, fire extinguishers, horns or whistles and navigational lights for night boat operations. Vessels without these items will be turned around and prevented from entering the park.
- Groundings are costly to your boat, your engine, and the environment. To avoid groundings make sure to have navigational charts or an electronic navigation system onboard and learn to properly use them before you head out on the water.
As in past years, special regulations will be in effect over the weekend:
- Vessels must anchor within the marked anchorage area from south of the Featherbeds, East of the Intra Coastal Water Way and north of “Billy’s Point” which is on the west coast of Elliott Key.
- No more than five boats may be rafted together in this area.
- A minimum distance of 75 feet must be maintained between rafts of vessels, or between individual, non-rafted vessels to allow emergency services personnel to access the area.
- No unauthorized business operations (including charters and the sales of food, drink, beads, etc.) will be permitted.
- Displaying advertising banners on vessels or aircraft is prohibited.
- Vessels with external speakers broadcasting unusually loud music may be cited and the audio equipment confiscated.
Visit http://www.nps.gov/bisc/planyourvisit/columbus-day-weekend.htm for these safety regulations and other event specifics.
Boat groundings are a particular problem during this weekend because of the large numbers of boaters who are unfamiliar with operating their boats in the extremely shallow water of the Bay. Park staff will be patrolling the area known as the Featherbed Bank redirecting boaters away from this shallow area in an effort to prevent groundings and to protect fragile seagrass beds and the marine life they support. Strobe lights will mark some of these areas after sunset.
Further details and information regarding the Columbus Day Weekend in Biscayne National Park are available online by clicking on the "Columbus Day" Quicklink on the park's homepage at www.nps.gov/bisc/. Information on the Columbus Day Regatta can be found at http://www.columbusdayregatta.net/