With the dramatic increase in boating traffic, the Marine Industries Association of Southwest Florida and Tampa Bay (MIA) joined with the West Coast Inland Navigation District (WCIND), the Venice Police Department, and the Sarasota Sheriff’s Office Marine Unit to host a forum that brought 15 law enforcement and government agencies together along with 30 marine industry representatives to discuss boating safety.
“With the large increase of vessel traffic, boating safety is a growing concern for law enforcement and the marine industry,” commented Justin McBride, Executive Director of WCIND and MIA Board member. "At WCIND, we interact regularly with these agencies. I see every day how frustrated they are and how much they care. They welcomed the opportunity for dialogue with marine businesses.”
The focus of the day centered around inexperienced boat and PWC operators. Law enforcement is trying to deal with the issue without additional budget or personnel, and believe opening lines of communications with local businesses can be a big help. Their biggest concerns center on boat and PWC rental operations.
There were many anecdotal stories of officers stopping boats and PWC’s with operators who have little experience and simply do not pay attention to their surroundings, or the rules of the road. Alcohol abuse was discussed and clearly adds to the problem, but irresponsible boat operation was the day’s main focus.
The general consensus is that education is a major key, but how to best accomplish that from a practical standpoint is a challenge. Most boat dealers and larger boat clubs have instructional programs in place and in recent months have stepped up their efforts to better educate their customers. Unfortunately, according to the program participants, these programs simply do not reach the majority of people causing the problems.
“The law enforcement folks are overworked and undermanned, but they truly care about their jobs,” said McBride. “In truth, most officers are not as concerned with writing citations as they are in educating boaters with whom they interact. Bringing all these folks together and getting to know each other on a more personal level was great. We are already kicking around ideas to reach out to the boating public to make our waters safer and more enjoyable.”
The day’s discussion also included updates on new and pending boating laws, updates from the U.S Coast Guard and their activities along the west coast, a review of livery (rental) laws from FWC, and presentations from Randall Bibler with NOAA Law Enforcement, and Gretchen Lovewell with Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota.