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Recent Boating News

Published Thursday, January 25, 2001, in the Miami Herald

Boaters face bans from areas to protect manatees

Off-limits spots and new speed regulations are part of a settlement between Florida and conservationists.


Florida boaters would be barred from several popular boating spots -- and face strict speed limits in others -- as part of a statewide settlement Wednesday meant to protect the state's endangered manatees.

Those are just two of the conditions reached in a settlement between the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and a group of 18 conservationists who sued the agency last year over its alleged failure to protect manatees from boaters.

"The problem has been that boaters and other watercraft users have been speeding way too fast in areas where manatees live, and they've been hitting and killing them in record numbers,'' said Patrick Rose, director of government relations for Save the Manatee Club.

"This settlement will both protect the manatee and not take away from the boating experience,'' Rose said.

The settlement calls for the establishment of several "safe havens'' -- spots where boats and water bikes would be banned, with the exception of those belonging to property owners.

The off-limits areas could include all or only parts of these locations: Blue Lagoon and Sky Lakes in Miami-Dade; DeLeon Springs, Volusia County; Pansy Bayou and Warm Mineral Springs in Sarasota County; Vero Beach Power Plant Discharge area, Indian River County; Turtle Bay, Charlotte County; Homosassa Springs, Blue Waters in Citrus County.

The state would establish more low-speed, or no-wake zones in several counties including Charlotte, Hillsborough, Manatee, Volusia, Indian River, Martin and Palm Beach.

The plan also includes an increase in patrols of the waterways to crack down on offenders and signs to alert boaters to new speed regulations. A formal agreement is expected in March after public hearings have been held in Brevard County -- the area with the most instances of manatees killed by speeding boats.

Manatees, Florida's beloved symbols of the marine environment, are being killed by boats in record numbers. Some 988 have been killed by boats since 1974. Last year 273 of the gentle mammals died, 78 of them killed by boats.

This is the second suit recently settled on behalf of manatees. Earlier this month, the federal government agreed to establish new refuges and sanctuaries as part of a settlement with several animal rights agencies that claimed that the government had not lived up to requirements of the Endangered Species and Marine Mammal acts and other laws that protect Florida's estimated 2,400 manatees. Gov. Jeb Bush last week also allotted $9 million for manatee protection in his proposed budget.

Despite the cries of victory from conservationists on Wednesday, James Antista, attorney for the Wildlife Commission, cautioned that the settlement was not a done deal.

"My commission wants to move with the settlement, but we have to be fair and get public input,'' Antista said. "Until that happens, we don't have a settlement.''

He added that no one -- including boaters -- wants to see manatees hurt or killed. But he argued that it was the commission's role to protect the interests of the endangered species as well as that of property owners.

John Sprague, president of Marine Industries Association of Florida, a group that tried to intervene in the lawsuit on behalf of boaters, said he was pleased the public would have a chance to speak.

"I'm glad they're being cautious because they do need to balance the public's
need with the needs of the wildlife,'' said Sprague. "All we want is to see a fair balance given to everyone involved with this matter.

"Boaters and those in the water industry want equal access, and we want to do so in an environment where we can fish, swim and dive with animals around.''

New bills recently signed by Gov. Gray Davis are designed to improve safety on California's waterways and are to go into force on 01/01/2001.

A bill sponsored by the Department of Boating and Waterways raises the age limit at which children are required to wear a personal flotation device (PFD) while under way in a vessel of 7.9 meters (approximately 26') or less from 6 to 11 years. Water skiers and personal watercraft (PWC) users will also have to wear PFDs.

Another bill, sponsored by the Recreational Boaters of California, requires anyone convicted of a moving violation while operating a vessel to complete a boating safety course. The bill will also require the Department of Boating and Waterways to develop a voluntary PWC education course and place it on the department's Web site.

In signing the bills, Davis said that he continues to oppose a general requirement that all persons operating a boat take a mandatory course, but the measure contains reasonable requirements that promote boating safety.

"US Coast Guard data show that personal watercraft are involved in a disproportionately high number of boating accidents in California," said Davis. "National Transportation Safety Board data show that a large portion of individuals involved in fatal boating accidents were operating vessels in an unsafe manner."

Effective 10/01/2000

  • The size of divers flags displayed on vessels must be from 12"x12" to 20"x24" and have a stiffener to keep the flag unfurled.

  • The flag must be displayed so that its visibility is not obstructed.

  • Divers must make a reasonable effort to stay within 300 feet of the divers-down flag on all waters other than rivers, inlets or navigation channels (where there is a 100 foot limit); vessel operators must make a reasonable effort to maintain a distance of 300 feet on these waters.

  • Vessels may approach within 100 feet or 300 feet of a divers-down flag only at idle speed; approaching at higher speed is reckless operation.

  • The minimum age to rent a PWC is increased to 18.

  • It is unlawful to allow a rented PWC to be operated by a person who has not received instruction in the safe handling of a PWC. The renter must give the owner a "written statement attesting to same".

  • Inflatable life jackets are prohibited when water skiing or operating a PWC.

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