BROOKSVILLE — Tragedies on the water, even on holidays with traditionally high boat traffic, are often easily avoided, boating experts say.
With just under 8,900 vessels registered in Hernando County, U.S. Coast Guard officials, as well as the operators of TowBoat US, a boat-towing service, offered tips for boating safety over the holiday weekend.
Clayton Tieman, who runs TowBoat US with his father, Larry Tieman, said that with good weather predicted, the water will likely be full of holiday boaters.
That was not the case last year.
“We had a lot of rain” and few jobs, Tieman said. “In that area (around Hernando), we can do 20 to 45 jobs a day on a typical July 4.”
Besides towing, calls for service often include jump starts, fuel and oil drops, and ungrounding stuck boats.
Petty Officer Crystalynn Kneen, a Coast Guard spokeswoman in Clearwater, said that officials with the U.S. military branch want boaters to be safe while having a good time.
“That entails wearing your life jacket,” Kneen said. “It’s the law that children 13 and under have a life jacket, but sometimes things happen quickly and you might not have enough time to grab one.
“So just wear it all the time. It could save your life,” she said.
Kneen’s second tip: Don’t drink and boat.
“Last weekend we did talks educating people about drinking and boating,” she said. “You wouldn’t get behind the wheel of your car drunk; don’t get in your boat drunk.”
While Kneen’s final tip might seem as obvious as the first two, she said she was compelled to impart that “your signal flares are not fireworks.”
“Please don’t use them as such,” she said. “It’s an actual distress signal. We get tons of calls when people see flares, and we think boaters are in distress. But sometimes, people don’t have fireworks and they light off flares.
“That can take away assets from someone who’s actually in danger, and it costs a lot of money for us to launch out” to a distress call.
Compared to surrounding counties, Hernando’s 8,885 registered vessels is relatively few, according to numbers compiled by the state Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, which also tracks boating mishaps.
In 2013, the number of registered vessels in Citrus County was just over 15,600; while Hillsborough had just over 41,000; Pasco had over 23,200; Pinellas had nearly 47,000; and Sarasota County just under 21,600, records show.
Last year in Hernando, there were five “reportable accidents” on county waters, resulting in two injuries, records show.
Kneen and Tieman said they will be happy if there are no mishaps or injuries to report this weekend.
As far as drinking, Tieman said water is the most beneficial beverage you can have onboard.
“For safety, keep hydrated,” he said. “People underestimate the effects of the sun, then they want to add libations to that. Also, file a float plan with somebody. Let a buddy know your rough GPS position, when you’re leaving and expect to be back.
“And always have a radio. There’s too much reliance on cell phones. They’re really not meant to work offshore. Sometimes they do, but if you’re eight or 10 miles offshore, you could have problems. Between Hudson and Homosassa, there’s a lot of no-man’s land.”