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Staying safe on water during Fourth of July weekend

Officials stepping up patrols, offering safety tips to revelers

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Every year, individuals and families looking to have fun during the Fourth of July weekend take to the water, whether at the beach or on a boat, in the St. Johns River or the Atlantic Ocean, and officials in Jacksonville want people to be able to have fun, but they also want them to stay safe.

Several agencies including the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office, the Coast Guard and Jacksonville Beach Rescue came together Thursday to remind the public about some tips on beach and boat safety.

"The biggest problem we had last year for us at Ocean Rescue was bathers and beach goers not listening," Max Ervanian, with Jacksonville Beach Ocean Rescue, said. "If a lifeguard is whistling at them or there's a lifeguard truck making an announcement, that they really follow all directions that lifeguards have for them."

Officials said that before people hit the water, they need to pay attention to the flags and posted advisories, warning people of potential dangers.

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The National Weather Service said rip currents have caused more than 250 deaths between 2000 and 2014, the most common water-related deaths in Florida, and those warnings could have helped keep those deaths from happening.

There's also been an increase in shark bites on the eastern seaboard. Officials said it's no reason to be scared, the ocean is home to sharks, but they want everyone to use caution.

"Late in the afternoon and early in the morning is when they like to feed, if you see bait pods going around, try to stay away from them," Brian Stafford, with Jacksonville Fire Rescue Department's Ocean Rescue, said.

Missing children are another major concern for officials when it comes to staying safe during all the holiday fun and to help with that, beach-goers can head to a Jacksonville Beach lifeguard station and get a wristband for youngsters with all the important information they may need on it.

The bands have parent or guardian contact information on them so if a child does go missing, officials can quickly and easily find their caregivers.

Many people will also be pulling up anchor and heading out on a boat to celebrate their holiday and officials have special reminders for those boaters.

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"We want you to check your boats before you get underway, make sure your lights work and you have all of your safety equipment, that you have enough fuel to get where you're going and get back," Pete Goody, with the JSO Marine Unit, said. "Most importantly, make sure you have enough life vests for everyone on board."

Flares also become an issue during the holiday weekend as officials said many people use them like fireworks, but they should only be used for emergencies.

And if you're the captain of the boat this weekend, officials want you to watch your alcohol consumption.

"You will go to jail if you get a BUI on a boat," Brad Stanley, with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, said.

And finally, with so many more people expected to be out and about this weekend, officials have stepped up patrols in more populated areas, like the beach or downtown areas, to be there in case of an emergency.