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Man on a pool float rescued a mile out in gulf

BELLEAIR BEACH — Everyone knows it's not safe to drink and drive. Better beware of drinking and getting on a pool float, too.

Especially if you're in the Gulf of Mexico.

The U.S. Coast Guard on Wednesday afternoon rescued a man on a pool float who had drifted about a mile out into the gulf.

The man, identified as Jerry Whipple, is "suspected of being extremely inebriated," said Petty Officer First Class Mariana O'Leary.

"The message here is this guy got lucky. He got really lucky," O'Leary said. "Depending on what the tides and currents are doing, he could have never been seen again."

According to the Coast Guard spokeswoman, a Good Samaritan who was on his 22-foot recreational boat called in to report an unconscious man floating well offshore.

When officials with the Coast Guard and a Clearwater Fire Rescue unit arrived about 12:20 p.m., they found the man unconscious on the float. He was wearing a life jacket.

He later regained consciousness and was taken to paramedics waiting at Coast Guard Station Sand Key.

Whipple, whose age and address were unknown Wednesday, was taken to Largo Medical Center with non life-threatening injuries, said Clearwater Fire spokeswoman Beth Watts.

The Pinellas County Sheriff's Office will investigate, O'Leary said.

Coincidentally enough, O'Leary said, Coast Guard Sector St. Petersburg is just about to launch a local boating under the influence campaign to educate residents about the dangers of mixing alcohol and boating — or in this case, swimming.

"We're really concerned with the amount of boating and drinking that is going on and the injuries that come along with it," she said. "Summer's here. It's hot. It's picking up."

Rita Farlow can be reached at farlow@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4157.

. Fast facts

Stay safe on the water

The Coast Guard offers these tips for staying safe on the water:

Always wear a life jacket. Approximately 90 percent of people who drown in boating accidents were not wearing one.

Never drink and boat. Alcohol use is the leading contributing factor in fatal boating accidents.

Make sure you have a VHF radio onboard. Cellular phones often prove to have limited range and limited reliability in a maritime environment. A distress call on a VHF radio can also alert other boaters in the area that you are having trouble.

Get a vessel safety inspection. Even if you pay careful attention to safety, dangerous mechanical problems can happen on even the best-maintained boats. The Coast Guard recommends all recreational boaters take advantage of the free vessel safety check program every year.

File a float plan. A float plan is simply letting a reliable loved one or friend know where you are going, when you are going to be back and what kind of vessel you have. That person can call the Coast Guard if you don't return on time and save critical minutes during a search.

For more information, visit to www.safeboatingcampaign.com.

Man on a pool float rescued a mile out in gulf 06/23/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, June 23, 2010 8:02pm]
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