With the weather finally warming up and locals 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 patrol Pasco waters this spring and summer performing random safety checks on boats.
The main marine equipment that 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.
Other 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 and every boat more than 16 feet must have a life ring or flotation seats for rescue.
Sheriff’s office spokesman Doug Tobin said that the Coast Guard recently was made aware of the sale of counterfeit fire extinguishers. Tobin warns against buying extinguishers secondhand.
“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 in an emergency kit, Laroche said. Make sure they are not expired and check to make sure moisture has not 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 Caroline Skiff Sea Chaser. The sheriff’s office saved money by using the engine from an old boat. The new boat 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.
Once officers have boarded your boat for a safety equipment check, they can issue citations for other violations, such as boating under the influence. A $72 ticket may be issued for each safety equipment violation.
“Boats are not only fun, but dangerous,” Laroche said. “You can prevent accidents by having legal safety equipment on board.”