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Life-saving advice for all boaters

In the wake of sad outdoors stories in the headlines the past several weeks, people who know what they're talking about have shared their ideas to prevent future tragedies.

Regarding the disappearance of two 14-year-old boys who went out Jupiter Inlet in a 19-foot boat, everyone I have talked to has a story about getting into trouble while he or she was boating.

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Contrary to the assertions of many uninformed commentators, the size of the boat was not the issue. South Floridians safely fish and dive offshore in boats that small and smaller.

The real issue was the sea and weather conditions when the boys headed out.

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Most boaters occasionally make a bad decision, like going out on rough days or staying out too long as a storm approaches. Rarely does it cost them their lives.

Capt. Frank Schmidt and I talked about such decisions last week while we were scouting for lobster miniseason. I recounted the day I inexplicably went fishing in winds of 20-25 mph and how the owner of our small boat decided to make a move that resulted in the boat sinking.

Having enjoyed "a lifetime of fishing and diving," Schmidt sent an email to his fellow members of the South Florida Spearfishing Club and the Lighthouse Point Saltwater Sportsman Association with his thoughts on boating safety.

Of paramount importance is training youngsters how to be safe and how to proceed when an emergency occurs.

"When they have friends aboard, ask them to review safety items in the boat with their friends. Try to have them realize their skill levels," Schmidt wrote, adding that the boat should have life jackets that fit and the kids should know how to use them. "Make sure the boat has a VHF radio that works and a cell phone (but tell them don't let it distract you on the water)."

Show kids where the fire extinguisher is kept and teach them how to properly use it. Do the same with the flare kit and sound-producing devices such as air horns and, if the boat has one, the EPIRB.

"Discuss what to do in an emergency, like possibly staying with the boat or using any other thing that floats. Everyone on the boat should have a basic understanding of its safety items and how to use them," Schmidt wrote. "I feel everyone over 12 years old on board should be able to use the boat's communication devices and, in an emergency, start and drive the boat.

"Make sure the boat they use is in good condition and help them with researching the weather conditions. Show them how you make a float plan, share it with someone on shore and stick to it."

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In Sarasota last month, two friends were spearfishing when one accidentally shot the other in the head. The injured 21-year-old was taken off life support by his family.

Tom Campbell, an experienced diver and spearfisherman, told me that such accidents can't happen when a speargun is pointed in a safe direction.

Campbell added that he only uses a speargun with a safety. Although you can't rely exclusively on a gun's safety, it does add another layer of protection.

Some spearfishers don't like safeties because it takes a moment or two to get the speargun ready to shoot. But Campbell said it doesn't bother him if having a safety sometimes costs him a shot at a fish.

He also made an excellent point about divers who struggle to load their spearguns because it's difficult for them to pull back the two rubber bands on their guns. Campbell suggested those divers should switch to having three bands, which would be easier to pull back, which means there would be a far less chance of the gun accidentally firing.

Bad news out of Biscayne National Park for anglers about a large no-fishing zone has drawn the attention of the U.S. Congress. Last week, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Miami, whose district includes the park, introduced the Preserving Public Access to Public Waters Act (H.R. 3310).

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Her bill has 30 co-sponsors, 18 of them from Florida, but only two from South Florida — Mario Diaz-Balart and Carlos Curbelo. The bill would ensure that federal and state agencies collaborate in the development of any new fishing access restrictions in areas where state marine waters and national park or national marine sanctuary boundaries overlap.

"Over the past 15 years, I have prodded the National Park Service to increase their outreach and work together with all stakeholders in the process of developing a new General Management Plan," said Ros-Lehtinen in a statement. "However, the stubborn and unsupported inclusion of a no-fishing zone in the park's final proposal seems to be the result of a process that treats collaboration like a check box on a form, rather than as a serious dialogue between partners. That's not right, and we should demand better from our federal government."

The diverse supporters of the bill include the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the American Sportfishing Association, Coastal Conservation Association, Florida Keys Commercial Fisherman's Association, National Marine Manufacturers Association and Organized Fishermen of Florida.

swaters@tribpub.com or @WatersOutdoors


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