JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – It’s National Safe Boating Week, and local and state agencies are reminding boaters to follow the rules of the water.
Meteorologist Katie Garner got a chance to go out with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to see the issues they deal with firsthand on the St. Johns River.
They say their biggest message for boaters is Slow Down.
Operating a boat the wrong way can cause damage in ways you can’t even see, and the trickle-down effect from going too fast in a wake zone can cause some costly destruction.
“If you’re going too fast in a wake zone, and you’ve got docks and boats up here, the wake could push the boats into the docks and it could break the docks or damage the vessels,” said FWC Public Information Officer Trevor Hausler.
Driving too fast in a no-wake zone can also have serious consequences when it comes to water pollution. The wake can push harmful chemicals into the water.
“The water’s splashing up and it’s washing the dirt and it’s washing the grass, it’s also taking the fertilizer we use in our yards to make them look pretty, and it’s putting it in our waterways,” Hausler said.
And polluting the water can kill the wildlife that call the water their home.
For those who might be thinking about renting a boat, the FWC has a warning that one renter learned the hard way.
While we were on the water with the FWC, the officers pulled over a guy who was in violation of causing wake in a manatee zone.
It turned out he was renting the boat and didn’t have registration for it.
When the officers asked him why he didn’t have documentation, he said he’d rented the boat online. The fire extinguisher onboard was very expired, too.
The FWC said there are a few checks you should make before renting a boat.
First, make sure the livery you’re renting from is following the law. They must have proof of insurance, provide boating instructions for renters born during or after 1988 and show them how to correctly operate the boat. They must also provide proper safety equipment.
Liveries can’t rent to anyone under 18 and no one younger than 14 can operate a boat on Florida waters.
So, take a moment to check everything before you leave with the boat. Have someone give you tour of it, look at the fire extinguisher, and check the registration.
Manatees, also known as sea cows, are gentle animals. They swim and eat and don’t cause many problems, but they do encounter them.
Boat traffic often threatens manatees and being hit by a boat can be deadly for the slow-moving creatures.
“If they’re getting hit hard, it could cause internal damage, and it could cause spinal damage,” Hausler said. “We deal with that quite a bit.”
Duval County and parts of Clay, St. Johns and Putnam counties have manatee protection rules year-round. To see the zone maps, click here.