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New boat safety laws in effect as busy July 4th boating weekend begins

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Posted at 5:05 PM, Jul 01, 2022
and last updated 2022-07-01 18:04:06-04

PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla.  — The Fourth of July weekend is the busiest weekend of the year to enjoy Florida’s waterways. Law enforcement leaders want you to stay safe and to know about two laws in particular—that may be new to boaters.

Ethan’s Law requires all boats 26 feet and smaller to have a kill switch attached to a lanyard that the boat operator or instructor must wear at all times when the boat is in motion. Larger boats already have a similar rule.

Ethan Isaacs

The law is named after a Sarasota 10-year-old, Ethan Isaacs, who was killed in a sailing accident when his instructor fell overboard from his motorized boat and accidentally hit the throttle. Ethan was struck by his instructor’s unmanned boat.

Another law that went into effect in 2022 (State Statute 327.463 Special Hazards) requires all boaters within 300 feet (about the length of a football field) from a law enforcement boat with lights or sirens activated, to slow to minimum wake speed.

deputies on water

Sgt. Ron Blair of the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office says it’s critically important to their safety and to those they are assisting. “Boats are constantly moving. It’s not like we throw an anchor when we are doing traffic stops. We’re moving along with the current and the wake itself, so a large wake can quickly turn a traffic stop into a water rescue,” he explained.

Law enforcement leaders say if you’re driving in a boat or a car, you must stay sober. You should also keep your eyes on both the sky and the radar.

“Weather is a critical factor in this area. One of the things people don’t realize is because of our position in the coast, weather can come from all directions and can come up on you very quickly,” explained FWC Officer Forest Rothchild.

storms on the water

Boater Zach Greenwood tells ABC Action News that he always makes sure his safety equipment is ready for a day on the water, no matter how far he plans to venture. He also ensures he always clips on the lanyard connected to his boat’s kill switch.

“I’ve seen multiple videos online of boats with nobody on them just zooming and they could hit another boat or hit land. It’s for your safety but also for the safety of everybody around you. You could do some serious damage with a boat if you’re not in control,” Greenwood said moments before launching his boat from the Park Boulevard Boat Ramp in Indian Shores.

Law enforcement leaders sometimes refer to the Fourth of July weekend as the Super Bowl for marine units. They expect busy waterways Friday through Monday.