boating safety
Posted June 1, 2017 | 12:12 PM

County Team Keeps Your Coastal Waters Shipshape

Marine Safety Officers monitor markers, signs, and other coastal concerns

Eighteen miles south of downtown Tampa, in a County-maintained boat channel just off the beach at E.G. Simmons Regional Park, Marine Safety Unit officers tie their pontoon boat to marker #9 and go to work.

Half of the two-sided green marker has disappeared from its post. The officers replace the reflective sign and its counterpart with new ones, and move on.

The Marine Safety Unit (MSU) has existed since the mid-1970s. It is charged with maintaining about 100 County nautical markers and signs, and monitoring some 400 additional ones that are privately owned. The officers also watch for abandoned boats and dilapidated docks that can become navigational hazards, and coordinate with other agencies — the U.S. Coast Guard, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office, Tampa Police Department, and others — that patrol or regulate the County’s coastline, rivers, and inland waters such as Edward Medard Reservoir and Lake Thonotosassa.

Marine Safety Unit Officers replacing the marker #9 sign

The MSU also participates in coordinated marine security details for events such as the annual Gasparilla invasion, and augments several of the County’s Emergency Support Functions.

Some days are unusual, like the round-up of storm-tossed boats that broke loose of their moorings near the mouth of the Alafia River. Other trips are less exciting, but it seems something always is happening on the water: a pair of manatees move down the coast, dolphins frolic nearby, a fisherman reels in a keeper sheepshead.

MSU members do not make arrests. But they can, for example, warn boaters to slow down in “No Wake” zones, report half-sunken discarded vessels, or suggest property owners repair aging piers before the structures break apart and float away.

They also are strong advocates of safety on the water, doing community outreach with Coast Guard Auxiliary Flotillas and marine law enforcement to engage waterfront neighborhoods and other interested boaters.

The Hillsborough County Marine Safety Unit will join other area agencies for the Wear It Day! boating safety rally at Gandy Boat Ramp on May 20. It is a kickoff of National Safe Boating Week, which is May 20 - 26.

There is lots of information available to help boaters be safe and legal. Check websites for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, and the "Wear It” North American Safe Boating Campaign.

Photo information: (Top) Marine Safety Unit officers; (Bottom) MSU equipment.