Sheriff's marine unit pitches boating safety
NEW PORT RICHEY -
With the weather finally warming up and boaters starting to hit the water, the Pasco County Sheriff's Office has a few safety tips.
Cpls. Mike Laroche and Clark Reese of the environmental crimes unit will be patrolling Pasco waters this spring and summer, performing random safety checks on boats are not required to have probable cause to stop them.
The main things marine deputies check, Laroche said, are life jackets, fire extinguishers and flares.
All boats also are required to have a sound production device such as a horn, air horn or whistle.
“When we stop a vessel, we make sure everybody on board has a life jacket appropriate to their size,” Laroche said.
“We also check for basic wear and tear. The nylon material does deteriorate in the sun's UV rays. We also check that the straps and buckles are in good shape.”
The officers are especially concerned with making sure all children on board have a life jacket that fits them properly.
Two other pieces of safety equipment they check for are fire extinguishers and throwable personal flotation devices. Fire extinguishers must be charged, have a working gauge and not be expired. Every boat more than 16 feet long must have a life ring or flotation seats for rescue.
Sheriff's Office Public Information Officer Doug Tobin warns that the Coast Guard has recently been made aware of counterfeit fire extinguishers being sold. Tobin warns about buying secondhand extinguishers.
“You're really putting your life and property at risk by buying them out of the back of a truck to save a few dollars,” Tobin said.
Flares are another important item to stock an emergency kit with, Laroche said. Make sure they're not expired, and check to make sure moisture hasn't seeped through the packaging.
You can dispose of them safely and legally at any fire department.
The unit will patrol this boating season with a new vessel, a 21-foot Carolina Skiff Sea Chaser. The sheriff's office saved money by using the engine from an old boat. The new one cost about $30,000 to purchase and outfit.
Although a boater's license is not required in Florida to operate a boat, Tobin recommends taking a boating course through the Coast Guard to learn about safety, boating laws and basic etiquette.
Boat insurance such as Sea Tow, Tobin said, is also highly recommended. The Marine Unit no longer tows boats stranded in low waters or with failing engines to land, so the towing insurance could come in handy no matter how experienced you are.
When it comes to the safety equipment, it's better to be safe than sorry. Preventing damage to people and property is the main concern, but it's also a $72 ticket for every violation.
Once officers have boarded your boat for a safety equipment check, they can then issue citations for other violations, such as boating under the influence, that are in plain sight.
“Boats are not only fun, but dangerous,” Laroche said. “You can prevent accidents by having legal safety equipment on board.”