Columbus Day Weekend 2011

Hundreds of boats gathered off of Elliott Key.
Hundreds of boats gather off Elliott Key each Columbus Day Weekend.

Gary Bremen

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News Release Date: September 28, 2011

Contact: Gary Bremen, 305-230-1144, x007

Contact: Matt Johnson, 305-230-1144, x050

HOMESTEAD, FLORIDA - In anticipation of large crowds of boaters in Biscayne National Park over the upcoming Columbus Day Weekend, October 7 - 10, 2011, 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 at 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 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. ""In an effort to save lives and avoid property and resource damage, those who operate vessels while intoxicated will be arrested and taken to jail," warned Wayne Rybeck, Incident Commander for the traditionally raucous event.

A few common sense safety tips to follow include:

  1. Don't drink and boat. Be responsible with drinks aboard. Designate a "sober skipper" before departing the dock.
  2. Remain anchored and on your vessel, particularly after dark. While no official curfew will be in place for the weekend, it is in everyone's best interest to "stay parked after dark." Those still on the water at sunset should stay there to avoid the increased hazards of operating a boat at night.
  3. Check that all safety gear is in working condition. File a float plan with a friend or at a marina. A float plan form can be found at 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.
  4. Running aground is costly to boats, engines, 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 heading 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 Featherbed Banks, East of the Intracoastal Waterway and north of Billy's Point, on the west side 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.

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 park's extremely shallow waters. Park staff will be patrolling the Featherbed Banks 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.

Visitors are encouraged to follow the park on Twitter at using the #ColumbusDay hashtag to send and receive alerts about the event. Information will also be posted on the park's Facebook page at NPS. Further details and information regarding the Columbus Day Weekend in Biscayne National Park are available by clicking on the "Columbus Day" Quicklink on the park's homepage at Information on the 57th Annual Columbus Day Regatta, a sailboat race happening outside of Biscayne National Park, can be found at

Last updated: April 14, 2015

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Homestead, FL 33033


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