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Keep it safe out there

Today is not only a busy day at parks around our area, but also on the water. With thousands of boaters expected to congest local waterways for Fourth of July celebrations, the Coast Guard urges people to exercise caution.

To make sure boaters are safe, Coast Guard crews will patrol, conduct safety checks and check for intoxicated and unsafe boaters. Crews can't be everywhere, so in a recent release the Coast Guard outlined three points that could make things easier this holiday and possibly save lives:

WEAR LIFE JACKETS: There were 498 recreational boating-related drownings in 2001, according to the Coast Guard. It estimates 420 of those could have been prevented had the person worn a life jacket. Boaters are urged to wear life jackets, especially when swimming in unknown waters and where currents are strong.

BE AWARE OF YOUR SURROUNDINGS: At this time of year the weather can change hourly. The Coast Guard urges boaters, especially canoers and kayakers, to check the weather before leaving and keep an eye on the sky. Updated forecasts can be checked on Channels 1 through 5 on VHF marine radios or by logging on to www.nws.noaa.gov.

DO NOT DRINK AND BOAT: Studies have found only a third of the alcohol needed to make a person impaired on the road can make a person impaired on the water. Intoxicated boaters can face federal and state charges with penalties reaching a year in prison or $100,000 in fines. Simply put, alcohol and boating don't mix.

Also, it may seem like a good idea to shoot an emergency flare for fun on the Fourth of July, but firing flares when not in distress can result in a Class D felony or up to $250,000 in fines and reimbursement for all costs the Coast Guard incurs.

New fishing tournament

Fathom's Offshore Outfitters will sponsor the first Mid-range Challenge fishing tournament July 12. Eligible fish are wahoo, blackfin tuna, dolphin and sailfish (catch and release). Fishing will be all day Saturday, with a weigh-in at 1-3 p.m. Sunday. The tournament, according to organizer Chris Turner, promotes the untapped bluewater fishery on the west coast of Florida. The captain's meeting will be 7 p.m. Thursday at Fathom's in St. Petersburg. For more information call (727) 867-3603.

Open season on scallops

July marks the opening of scallop season, but only from the Pasco-Hernando border to the Mexico Beach canal. The scallop population has not sufficiently recovered in waters south of the Pasco-Hernando line to allow harvest. The season runs through September 10. The harvest limit is two gallons of whole bay scallops in the shell or one pint of meat per person, per day. No more than 10 gallons of whole scallops or a half gallon of meat may be possessed by a vessel at any time.

_ RODNEY PAGE

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