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Agencies urge boaters to remember safety

By Staff | May 27, 2016

The city of Cape Coral is almost like Venice, Italy, with its hundreds of miles of canals.

That makes boat safety all the more important, which is why the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission and several local agencies got together at Centennial Park on Wednesday to reinforce that very point during a news conference where the media was able to go out on the water and see what the FWC does daily.

Brian Rehwinkel, boating safety outreach coordinator with the FWC, said the event was held in conjunction with National Safe Boating Week, which is from May 21-27.

“This is an opportunity for all boaters to be aware of preparation for boating and some of the simple steps they can take on the water,” Rehwinkel said. “We talk about 360-degree awareness while operating a boat and maintaining a lifejacket habit.”

Rehwinkel said the biggest mistake boaters make involves boats hitting other boats or fixed objects in plain view, where operators aren’t paying close attention: Operator awareness is critical.

Life jackets are even more important. Following the brief press conference, Justin Price, also of the FWC, demonstrated a new, lightweight life jacket that inflates with a tug via an air canister.

Rehwinkel said they are also on the lookout for boaters under the influence, while FWC’s Stuart Spoede added that 70 percent of those on the water have had no formal training in operating a boat. He urged everyone to take a course and learn about the water.

FWC Petty Officer Michael Irigoyen showed off a new emergency position indicating radio beacon, which distributes a signal to a satellite to alert officials of trouble in the water, and a personal beacon, which can be kept in a life jacket to signal if you’re in the water.

Spoede said Southwest Florida has no off-season for boating along with miles of coastline and canals. Many people have boats or have friends who have boats, making the reinforcement of the rules and safety precautions more important.

“You wouldn’t get behind the wheel of a car and drive down the interstate without knowing how to drive it. People tend to think boats are easy to drive. They don’t know the rules, safety or etiquette, or what to do if they get into trouble,” Spoede said.

Rehwinkel said the main idea is to make sure they don’t have to go out on the water and investigate a tragedy.

“Boaters have to understand we’re in a boater’s paradise, and all our partners want people to get out on the water and enjoy themselves. We just want them to do it safely and make educated decisions,” Rehwinkel said.

The event featured personnel from the FWC, as well as the water divisions of the Lee County Sheriff’s Office, Fort Myers and Cape Coral police departments.