June 9, 2021


With the dramatic increase in boating traffic, the Marine Industries Association of Southwest Florida and Tampa Bay (MIA) joined with the West Coast Inland Navigation District (WCIND), the Venice Police Department, and the Sarasota Sheriff’s Office Marine Unit to host a Forum bringing Law Enforcement Agencies (LE) and marine businesses together to discuss concerns of boating safety.  Held on June 9th at the Venice Community Center, fifteen Law Enforcement and government agencies were on hand along with about thirty marine industry representatives.

“With the large increase of vessel traffic, boating safety is a growing concern for law enforcement and the marine industry”, commented Justin McBride, Executive Director of WCIND and MIA Board member.  “At WCIND, we interact regularly with these agencies.  I see every day how frustrated they are and how much they care.  They welcomed the opportunity for dialogue with marine businesses.”

The day’s discussion included updates on new and pending boating laws, updates from the U.S Coast Guard and their activities along the west coast, a review of livery (rental) laws from FWC, and presentations from Randall Bibler with NOAA Law Enforcement, and Gretchen Lovewell with Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota.

The focus of the day, however, centered around inexperienced boat and PWC operators.  Law enforcement is trying to deal with the issue without additional budget or personnel, and believe opening lines of communications with local businesses can be a big help.  Their biggest concerns centered on boat rental operations, and in particular personal watercraft, followed closely by general awareness of boating rules and regulation.  There were many anecdotal stories of officers stopping boats and PWC’s with operators who have little experience and simply do not pay attention to their surroundings, or the rules of the road.  Alcohol abuse was discussed and clearly adds to the problem, but irresponsible boat operation was the day’s main focus.

The agencies have concerns about insurance for rental operations.  There is a legal requirement for PWC rental operations to carry liability insurance but, as hard as it may be to believe, there is no requirement for boat rentals.  MIA Board Member Clint Frick, with Legacy Special Risks, commented that insurance companies are becoming much more restrictive in their coverage of rental operations and most major insurers are very reluctant to write liability policies.   He did say that rental operations that operate from an established marina most likely have adequate coverage.  That may not be the case with smaller operations like those that that rent from boat ramps.

The general consensus is that education is a major key, but how to best accomplish that from a practical standpoint is a challenge.  Most boat dealers and larger boat clubs have instructional programs in place and in recent months have stepped up their efforts to better educate their customers.  Barry Slade with Freedom Boat Club outlined their requirements for new club members, which includes two hours of classroom and two hours of on-water instruction.  Barry Marshall of the Viage Group said that all their new boat deliveries include instructional time with licensed boat captains and that most reputable dealers have similar programs in place.

Unfortunately, these programs do not reach the majority of boaters causing the problem.  It does not take long to experience the problem on the water as wake zones are ignored, PWC’s carelessly jump wakes in marked channels, boats cross each other haphazardly and far too many boaters simply do not pay attention to their surroundings.  How much instruction do boat rental operations really provide and how carefully do they qualify customers?  The question for Law Enforcement and the Marine Industry is how do we reach the thousands of new boaters who have purchased boats from a private individual or from the many used boat and consignment dealers in the market?

While there is no easy answer, the forum generated some great discussion and sharing of ideas.  Perhaps the best takeaway was simply opening lines of communications between Law Enforcement and marine businesses.

“The LE folks are overworked and undermanned, but they truly care about their jobs,” said McBride.  “In truth, most officers are not as concerned with writing citations as they are in educating boaters with whom they interact.  Bringing all these folks together and getting to know each other on a more personal level was great.  We are already kicking around ideas to reach out to the boating public to make our waters safer and more enjoyable.”

Plans are underway for a second forum in Ft. Myers for Lee, Charlotte, and Collier Counties Law Enforcement agencies and marine businesses.

For more information:  John Good.  [email protected].


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