Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Boating safety officers want to be life preservers, not buzzkills

Lt. Dan Parisoe of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission pulls over Philip Annichiarico of Oldsmar for a routine safety inspection Saturday. Extra officers are patrolling the waters over the long Fourth of July weekend.

JOHN PENDYGRAFT | Times

Lt. Dan Parisoe of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission pulls over Philip Annichiarico of Oldsmar for a routine safety inspection Saturday. Extra officers are patrolling the waters over the long Fourth of July weekend.

The officers were nearing the end of their shift when they saw the white yacht rushing across the gulf, the teens' legs dangling over the bow.

Officer Jacob Cocke whipped the boat of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission around, flipped on his blue lights and sped toward the yacht, named College Fund.

The danglers had climbed down from their perch by the time officers eased up alongside the yacht and tied the boats together with black rope. Lt. Dan Parisoe leaned in to address them.

Before he could even begin, the yacht's captain interjected.

"I told them," he said disapprovingly, shaking his head and chuckling.

Parisoe was undeterred.

Though the view was better on the bow, he said sternly, one big bump could turn the day from carefree to tragic. His lesson was as much for the teens, who listened intently, as the adults onboard.

"They could fall," Parisoe warned, "and be under the boat before you'd even have time to stop."

• • •

Florida leads the nation in boat ownership, with 896,632 vessels registered in the state last year. But there are only so many officers to regulate boaters' behavior in the open waters of the gulf. For Parisoe and his crew, "It's not really about writing tickets; it's about education."

While they occasionally patrol for specific violations, like out-of-season fishing or boating under the influence, their checks are often random and informative. Their hope is to get ahead of tragedy with safety lessons.

In Pinellas County alone, there were 47 boating accidents last year that killed eight people and injured 22 others. Statewide, there were 62 fatalities and 420 injuries.

Middle-aged men with no formal training are most likely to be involved in accidents.

Speed and distracted drivers are other common factors.

Piloting a boat isn't like driving a car. Boats crisscross paths and trail each other's wakes. Cocke said he often sees water scooters weave between anchored boats at a sandbar, with no regard for swimmers.

Often, he said, personal watercraft tow tubers but don't use a lookout or have a wide-angle rearview mirror.

"We focus on Jet Skis a lot because they can get closer to beaches and swimmers," said Pinellas sheriff's Deputy Charlie Tita, who has been with the agency's marine unit for 23 years. "They like to operate in close proximity to each other."

Most people involved in accidents have ample boating experience and can swim, but aren't wearing flotation devices or have been drinking — making drowning the leading cause of death in boating accidents.

It's not illegal to consume alcohol on a boat. The operator just has to maintain a blood alcohol content below the legal limit. But, Cocke said, "if there's two people on board and 25 beer cans, that tells you something."

On land, Parisoe said, a primary concern in a drunken driving collision is the collision itself.

But in a boat, he said, it's what happens after the crash. If a passenger has been drinking, his balance or swimming ability could be compromised. A minor head injury in the water could be fatal.

"It's not like being on land," Parisoe said. "Now you're a casualty."

• • •

When the officers from the wildlife commission set out for their shift, they never know what they will face. Their coverage area is vast and cumbersome. The statistics tell them their presence is needed.

Parisoe and his crew patrol the waters around Hillsborough and Pinellas counties, keeping a close eye on areas like Hurricane Pass, Anclote Key, Three Rooker Island, Honeymoon Island and Caladesi Island. In Tampa Bay, officers look out for partiers at a hangout nicknamed Beer Can Island.

Sometimes they stop several boaters for dangerous behavior; other times they don't encounter any reckless operators.

Last weekend they joined forces with local law enforcement and the U.S. Coast Guard for "Operation Dry Water," an annual public education campaign to combat boating under the influence.

They didn't find anyone who had overindulged — because they think it was the calm before the storm otherwise known as the long Fourth of July weekend.

This weekend, the commission planned to have extra officers on duty to conduct safety checks and watch for dangerous boating activity. The sheriff's marine unit planned to loan life jackets to children as part of Operation Kid Float.

"We're not trying to spoil anybody's fun," Cocke said. "We just don't want to work any deaths."

Contact Katie Mettler at kmettler@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8913. Follow @kemettler.

>>At a glance

By the numbers

896,632

registered vessels in Florida last year

736

boating accidents in 2013

420

injuries

62

fatalities





63

Percentage of operators involved in fatal accidents who had no formal boater education

72

Percentage of operators involved in fatal accidents over the age of 35

74

Percentage of boating fatalities in which drowning was the cause of death

>>Before you sail

Safety checklist

• Enough life jackets for each passenger on board, size appropriate for children and adults

• Sound-making device, like a whistle, bell or air horn, if your boat does not have one built in

• Throwable flotation device if your vessel is longer than 16 feet

• Fire extinguisher in serviceable condition

• Visual distress signal for nighttime boating

• Communications device like a cellphone or radio

• Driver's license or ID

• Up-to-date boat

registration

• Boating lights in working order, to be checked before departure, especially if venturing out for fireworks

• Designated sober

operator

Boating safety officers want to be life preservers, not buzzkills 07/05/14 [Last modified: Saturday, July 5, 2014 9:04pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Search for missing Army helicopter crew suspended in Hawaii

    Military

    HONOLULU — Officials have suspended the search for five Army soldiers who were aboard a helicopter that crashed during offshore training in Hawaii last week.

    Water safety officials hand over possible debris from an Army UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter crash to military personnel stationed at a command center in a harbor, Wednesday in Haleiwa, Hawaii, a day after. an Army helicopter with five on board crashed several miles off Oahu's North Shore. Officials  suspended the search for five Army soldiers in a helicopter crash during offshore training in Hawaii on Monday. [Associated Press]
  2. Rubio praises Trump for 'excellent' speech on Afghanistan

    Blogs

    Sen. Marco Rubio praised President Donald Trump's "excellent" speech on Afghanistan. Sen. Bill Nelson was less effusive but agreed with the goal.

  3. Gov. Rick Scott blasts report of shifting words on Charlottesville

    Blogs

    Gov. Rick Scott, one of the most scripted politicians in modern Florida history, said Monday that ‘both sides” bore blame for Charlottesville.

  4. Record $417 million awarded in lawsuit linking baby powder to cancer

    Nation

    LOS ANGELES — A Los Angeles jury on Monday ordered Johnson & Johnson to pay a record $417 million to a hospitalized woman who claimed in a lawsuit that the talc in the company's iconic baby powder causes ovarian cancer when applied regularly for feminine hygiene.

    A bottle of Johnson's baby powder is displayed. On Monday, Aug. 21, 2017, a Los Angeles County Superior Court spokeswoman confirmed that a jury has ordered Johnson & Johnson to pay $417 million in a case to a woman who claimed in a lawsuit that the talc in the company's iconic baby powder causes ovarian cancer when applied regularly for feminine hygiene. [Associated Press]
  5. Search under way for missing sailors; Navy chief orders inquiry

    Military

    SINGAPORE — The U.S. Navy ordered a broad investigation Monday into the performance and readiness of the Pacific-based 7th Fleet after the USS John S. McCain collided with an oil tanker in Southeast Asian waters, leaving 10 U.S. sailors missing and others injured.

    Damage is visible as the USS John S. McCain steers toward Singapore’s naval base on Monday.