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New weather service should help mariners

Tampa Bay area boaters will enjoy an added measure of safety thanks to a new weather radio system dedicated to marine users.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration transmitter in Largo is linked directly to the National Weather Service office in Ruskin.

"What is really different about this system is the fact that it is aimed out directly over the water," meteorologist Ira Brenner said. "None of the signal will be wasted over land."

Brenner said the weather service developed the mariner weather system in response to user demand.

"A lot of boaters contacted us and said that when they are out on the water, they don't like to have to wait for the (land forecasts)," he said. "They want to know about what is happening out over the water."

The weather alerts, operating at 162.450 megahertz, will be broadcast 24 hours a day and provide information for up to 60 miles offshore.

In addition to carrying weather information, fisheries information such as season closures will be broadcast.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration operates more than 800 stations in 50 states and adjacent island territories. Brenner said the new mariner alert system is one of six operating in the United States.

In addition to assisting Tampa Bay's approximately 125,000 recreational boaters, the system will benefit the region's commercial shipping industry. The Port of Tampa is the state's largest and handles nearly half the goods shipped in and out of Florida.

BOAT REGISTRATIONS INCREASE: The number of registered recreational boats in the United States increased by more than 150,000 last year, a 1.2 percent increase over 2002.

There were 13-million recreational boats licensed in the United States in 2003, according to a news release from the National Marine Manufacturers Association.

California, with 1,051,606 registered boats, moved to No. 1 for the first time, and Michigan, with 1,000,337, dropped to No. 2. Florida, with 922,597 registered boats, remained in third.

The nation probably has more than 13-million boats, according to the Chicago-based marine association, because small, people-powered craft such as canoes and kayaks do not have to be registered in most states.

HOGFISH MEETING: When federal fishery managers meet in Tampa this week, hogfish, one of the state's most popular sport fish, will be on the agenda with goliath grouper.

Under Florida law, hogfish must have a 12-inch fork length to be kept. Fishermen may keep five a day.

But a recent stock assessment by the University of Miami has recommended the size limit be increased to 20 inches. The study suggested fishery managers lower the bag limit to one fish a day.

The Gulf of Mexico and South Atlantic Fishery Management councils are scheduled to meet Tuesday at the the Hilton Airport Westshore, 2225 N Lois Ave., Tampa. The meeting begins at 2 p.m. For additional information, go to the Web site

LOOKING AHEAD: Many of the nation's top sailors will be in St. Petersburg next month when the city hosts the Sailing World National Offshore One Design Regatta. The races, the first of a nine-city series, are scheduled for Feb. 13-15 in the waters around the Pier.

More than 150 teams from around Florida and competitors from Canada, England and Ireland are expected to compete. The sailboats, from 20 to 34 feet, will be in 16 classes with strict guidelines, hence the name "one design." The idea is the best sailors, not most expensive boats, win.

For more information contact the St. Petersburg Yacht Club at (727) 822-3873.