Coast Guard urges boating safety during holiday weekend

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The U.S. Coast Guard is urging boaters to be safe this holiday weekend with many more boats expected to be on the water.

Nathan Shoemaker was headed out on the river in his boat Thursday with his son and a friend to do some tubing, a day ahead of the July 4th holiday. Shoemaker says he tries to avoid boating on a holiday if he can help it.

Related: Fourth of July events on the First Coast

"Notoriously on the holiday weekend there is a lot of drinking going on," said Shoemaker. "Not paying attention while they are on the water and that is a time, a great opportunity, for things to happen and go wrong so I try to avoid those days."

Petty Officer First Class Lauren Jorgensen of the Coast Guard station in Mayport urges boaters to be at their best.

"We are asking people to use common sense, be careful, be alert and remain capable of handling your vessel," Jorgensen said.

That is why the Coast Guard and other law enforcement agencies like JSO and FWC will be out in force on the water to make sure boaters are being safe. They will cite those boating under the influence and that could lead to fines and jail time. Having a designated driver is important.

"It is just as important as having a designated car driver. A boat is a vehicle and operating under the influence is illegal," said Jorgensen.

Three-fourths of those who died in boating accidents last year drowned, and 84 percent of them weren't wearing a life jacket. The Coast Guard urges life jackets to be worn.

"Accidents happen quickly and often without warning so it is safer for people to be in life jackets, and if they were to capsize for instance, they would already be prepared.," said Jorgensen.

Boaters on the St. Johns River can get a great closeup view of the fireworks in downtown Jacksonville Friday night, but that great view from the water comes with a lot of boat traffic and crowded conditions on the water.

"When people go to leave after the fireworks there are usually congested areas where all the boats are trying to get back home at the same time and that can cause higher than normal waves in those areas . We are just asking people in those areas to take their time, be safe and be aware of their surroundings at all times."

The Coast Guard also warns boaters not to use flares on their boats to make their own fireworks display.

"We often get reports of flare sightings on holidays where there are fireworks, people seem to think, 'oh I have this expired flare, I will go ahead and shoot it off.' Flares should be used only for emergency situations. So we ask people to not fire off flares that they don't need to. It puts our crews in unnecessary danger by going out and searching when a search isn't necessary."

In 2013 there were 560 deaths and 2620 injuries as a result of recreational boating accidents. In Florida, 10 people died and 22 were injured in 32 accidents.


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