Following the Fourth of July crash on Florida’s Biscayne Bay that killed four and injured several others, an informal but passionate campaign to try to prevent future tragedies is evolving into an urgent plea for legislation to regulate boating in the area.
Veteran Miami sportfishing captains Bric Peeples and Terry Claus are friends of the families of the accident victims. Both are the parents of young adults and both are on a mission of prevention, calling the area’s boating “a free-for-all.”
“What we have now isn’t working,”Peeples told the Miami Herald. “I’m tired of people having to bury their kids.”
Peeples has enlisted the help of local maritime lawyer Bruce Marx and Washington, D.C., boating and fishing lobbyist Jim Donofrio.
Claus says he is contacting representatives of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and members of the Miami-Dade County Commission.
Tops on their safe-boating wish list: a nighttime speed limit or idle-only zone on bay waters from Stiltsville to Government Cut.
“That’s the easiest and fastest solution to this,”Claus said. “It’s like a manatee zone. If you can do things to protect manatees, why not to protect human life?”
The two captains also are calling for mandatory licensing and on-the-water education for recreational boaters; harsh penalties for boating under the influence; a change in lighting requirements for recreational boats so skippers easily can discern approaching vessels from the bright lights of Miami; and a daytime idle-only zone around the popular Mashta Flats sandbar off Key Biscayne where boaters anchor and party on weekends and holidays.
The Key Biscayne Village Council already has imposed a 12-acre no-motor zone in a portion of the area, but the captains say careless boaters still throw big wakes around the edge of the sandbar.
Other boaters have more ideas for curbing mayhem on the water.
Cory Offutt, who owns TowBoatUS Miami, proposes a campaign to “shock and educate boaters into safe boating,”he said.
Offutt is writing letters to the mayors of Miami and Miami-Dade County, Florida Gov. Rick Scott, the Coast Guard and the Fish and Wildlife Commission, demanding that signs be posted at every marina and boat ramp in the county, reading: “Seven deaths on Biscayne Bay this year: Will you be next?”and pointing out the hazards of alcohol, excessive speed and improper lighting.
“As a boater, it just gets worse and worse,”Offutt said. “Miami is one of the best places to boat. But they get drunk. Our community just parties so much, there’s just a disregard of common sense. They’re able to buy those big boats and have no training. They don’t know how to drive it; they don’t know the dangers. It’s so ridiculous. People don’t go out boating to die.”
Boater Carlos Levay, of Miami, said he agrees with suggestions for boater licensing and stiffer drunken boating penalties. A frequent visitor to the Key Biscayne sandbar, Levay enjoys rafting his 42-foot Sea Ray together with the boats of family members and friends for picnicking and partying, but he said they stayed away on Independence Day.
“It’s not the drinking. Everybody drinks,”he said. “It’s just that everybody is so irresponsible. I have one beer, maybe two, and I stop. I’m responsible for my boat and the people on board.”
Added Claus: “I don’t feel safe out there. It’s a free-for-all.”