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Traditionally large crowds of boaters are expected in Biscayne National Park over the upcoming Columbus Day Weekend, October 5 - 8, 2007.
"Many local and visiting boaters are unaware that much of Biscayne Bay is located within the boundaries of a National Park. It is our responsibility to do our part to protect life, property and park resources. We are asking boaters to assist us by acting in a safe and responsible manner while they enjoy their national park," states Mark Lewis, Biscayne National Park Superintendent.
To help reinforce appropriate behavior, a unified command of law enforcement officers from the National Park Service, U.S. Coast Guard, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and Miami Dade Police Department will be on the water patrolling and conducting safety inspections and BUI (Boating Under the Influence) checks at public boat ramps and in the channels leading from these ramps to the Bay throughout the weekend. 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.
In light of the numerous boating accidents and fatalities that have occurred in the recent past, and to ensure the safety of the boating public, National Park Service rangers are emphasizing the importance of responsible boating as the Columbus Day Weekend nears.
"While no official curfew will be in place for the weekend, it is important to remember that all the fatalities and the majority of the boating accidents that have occurred over recent Columbus Day Weekends have taken place after sunset. This year, we are asking boaters in the Bay to remain with their vessels in the mandatory anchorage area after dark." remarks Steve Clark, Chief of Visitor Protection and Law Enforcement at Biscayne. Two individuals lost their lives in tragic accidents in 2006 and three others were killed in 2002. "Remember to stay parked after dark.This simple act can help save lives.", he says.
Intoxilizers that measure blood alcohol levels will once again be used as an aid to ensuring that boat captains are not piloting a vessel recklessly or while under the influence.
As in past years, special regulations will be in effect over the weekend:
· Vessels anchoring in the bay on Columbus Day weekend, must be within the marked anchorage area along the northwest portion of Elliott Key.
· No more than five boats may be rafted together in this area.
· A minimum distance of 100 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 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 extremely shallow water of Biscayne 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. "Boat groundings are costly to boaters and to the resource", states Clark. "You can help prevent them by using navigational charts to get to your destination safely."
Click on the "Columbus Day Weekend" Quicklink found on the Park Home page for a map of the mandatory anchorage area and additional information regarding enhanced safety regulations and other Columbus Day Weekend specifics.