Many boaters enjoy the freedom of being on the water with friends on Independence Day. The July 4 holiday is traditionally one of the busiest boating days of the year.
But with freedom comes responsibility.
Palm Beach County boaters who overload their vessels, drive them after drinking, fail to have enough life jackets of the correct size for each person on board or operate boats or personal watercraft recklessly are likely to face consequences from the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission, the U.S. Coast Guard or other law-enforcement agencies Wednesday.
Lt. Atwell Pride said FWC officers will be working extended shifts on the water Wednesday to patrol the ocean, the Intracoastal Waterway and the Osborne-Ida chain of lakes. They'll be watching for signs of underage drinking, boating under the influence, safety equipment violations and other problems.
"We're going out there with the expectation that it's going to be busy, and we're going to patrol accordingly," Pride said.
Holiday boaters should think ahead to avoid problems, said Will Beck, owner of Sea Tow Services of the Palm Beaches.
Even being social on the water by "rafting up," or tying boats together to watch fireworks, has its hazards.
Social boaters should realize that a single anchor used by the host boat might not hold the weight of other boats that tie up to celebrate, Beck said.
Beck has seen whole "rafts" of tied-together boats suddenly start drifting and collide with other clusters of boats, an occurrence that can cause injury and damage, in addition to spoiling the celebratory mood.
Skippers who shut down their boats's engines and listen to music for a couple of hours while awaiting a fireworks show sometimes learn they have weak batteries that won't start the engines when it's time to head home.
The first few minutes after fireworks shows end can be dangerous on the water, too.
"The moment the last skyrocket goes off, they all want to leave at the same time," Beck said. "Be patient at the end."
Boaters headed to the Fourth on Flagler in downtown West Palm Beach can tie up at the downtown city docks, but the docks will be closed from 7 p.m. until 10 p.m., meaning boats cannot leave or arrive during those hours Wednesday, said Katrina Resch, event coordinator.
Boats will not be allowed near the barge from which the fireworks will be launched, but they can watch from outside the restricted area, Resch said.
Two boats from the Jupiter Police Department will be working with other law-enforcement agencies Wednesday to maintain order on waterways near the town, Sgt. Scott Pascarella said. In addition to enforcing boating laws, the Jupiter officers plan to confiscate illegal fireworks.
Petty Officer Chris Susko of the Coast Guard Station Lake Worth Inlet asked boaters to refrain from firing emergency flares to celebrate the Fourth of July, as they have in the past. The Coast Guard must respond to flares as search-and-rescue emergencies. False alarms consume staff time and fuel that could be used for real emergencies.
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