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Boaters To Pack Biscayne Bay Over Columbus Day Weekend

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(CBS4) Boaters partying off Eliott Key in Biscayne Bay during Columbus Day Weekend in Oct. 2010.

(CBS4) Boaters partying off Eliott Key in Biscayne Bay during Columbus Day Weekend in Oct. 2010.

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MIAMI (CBS4) – The Columbus Day holiday in South Florida usually means a big boating weekend on the water, if the weather cooperates and that means heavy enforcement on the high seas for boating safety.

In an annual South Florida Columbus Day Weekend tradition, a large fleet of powerboats always anchors off Eliott Key for a weekend of boating, and boozing on the bay. It’s often considered a hedonistic celebration featuring non-stop music, dancing, drinking in excess and a clothing optional atmosphere.

In anticipation of the boating event, Biscayne National Park officials are gearing up for the expected three-day onslaught of partying power boaters.

More than 100 law enforcement officers and emergency medical responders made up of park rangers, U.S. Coast Guard, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, and Miami-Dade police and will patrol the bay and local marinas.

Officers will be checking boats for proper safety equipment, such as fire extinguishers and lifejackets, and to make sure operators stay sober. There is a zero tolerance policy for any boating under the influence.  Anyone found boating under the influence will be jailed.

In previous years, several boaters have been killed and scores of others injured and arrested during the raucous holiday celebration.

Officials want everyone to know the rules and stay safe.

Special regulations will be in effect over the three-day weekend:

  • Vessels must anchor in a designated area on the west side of Elliott Key
  • No more than five boats may be rafted together in that area
  • A minimum distance of 75 feet is required between rafts of vessels or between individual boats
  • No unauthorized commercial activity
  • Vessels with loud music may be cited and audio equipment confiscated

Here are some other boating safety tips:

To prevent damage to fragile sea grass beds, park rangers will patrol the Featherbed Banks area and direct boaters away to keep them from grounding. At night, some sea grass meadows will be marked with strobe lights.

  • There should be one lifejacket for each person aboard
  • The boat must have a fire extinguisher
  • Boat lights must work
  • Don’t boat while drunk
  • Watch the weather
  • Develop a float plan. Make sure someone knows how long you’ll be gone
  • Stay hydrated. Drink plenty of water

In a completely unrelated boating event, as many as 100 sailboats are expected for the 58th annual Bacardi Columbus Day Regatta, held Oct. 6-7 on Biscayne Bay.

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