Thirteen people rescued after 26' rental boat begins sinking in intracoastal waterway

Passengers were celebrating a birthday

CLEARWATER, Fla. - "They started waving their arms frantically," said Captain Lisa Jenkins.

Jenkins, who works for StarLite Cruises, was at the helm of the Sealife Safari navigating the intracoastal waterway Saturday afternoon near Clearwater.

"We noticed a boat on the left side of the vessel taking on water.  There were about six, seven people in the water already.  And about six on board still.  The stern end of the boat was already submerged," Jenkins recalled.

Thirteen people left from Island Marine Rentals in Indian Shores on board a 26' Bayliner pontoon deck boat celebrating a birthday.  Eventually, all thirteen ended up in the water, most in life jackets.

"They kept saying, 'We have a child on board, we have a child.  We have a woman that doesn't know how to swim.'  So they were starting to panic," Jenkins said.

Jenkins threw her boat's life ring while another crew member and volunteers onboard from the Clearwater Marine Aquarium began to pull people to safety.

"We'd never been in that situation before.  We practice drills regularly so we knew what we had to do," Jenkins explained.

Jenkins radioed for help as the scene unfolded;  the Coast Guard and FWC assisted with the rescue of the remaining passengers.

The owners of Island Marine Rentals had the boat towed back and say it was in good working condition when it left the dock.  The boat has a current safety check decal and is rated to hold 13 passengers.

Julia Kirkham and her husband own Island Marine Rentals and say they are diligent with safety checks, especially when it comes to the number of people on a boat.

"It was nothing that they did.  It was nothing that we could even anticipate.  We made sure that all the safety equipment was on board, everything was taken care of for them.  They were rescued.  We are so grateful that they were not harmed," said Kirkham.

FWC is still investigating what caused the boat to take on water.

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