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Darryl Rouson targets boating safety and environmental protection in proposed legislation

The bill would limit speed near emergency vessels.

Sen. Darryl Rouson filed a bill that would provide protections for emergency water vessels and construction boats and barges and for environmentally sensitive mangroves and public lands.

Under his bill (SB 1378) boaters would be required to operate at slow speed, minimum wake near emergency vessels or construction operations in the water.

Slow speed, minimum wake defined as a vessel operating fully off plane and completely settled into the water.

If passed, a person could not operate a vessel faster than slow speed, minimum wake if it is within 300 feet of an emergency vessel including law enforcement, fire rescue, U.S. Coast Guard or tow boats that have their emergency lights activated.

The speed restriction also applies to approaching within 300 feet of construction vessels or barges that have an orange flag displayed.

Such flags are displayed at least 10 feet above the tallest portion of the vessel or five feet above any superstructure permanently installed on the vessel or barge and indicate that the vessel or barge is currently engaged in construction operations.

The flags must be at least two feet by three feet in size and contain a wire or stiffener to ensure visibility.

Boaters cannot be cited for failing to abide by the speed limits under the bill in periods of low visibility including one hour before sunset and one hour after sunrise unless the flag is illuminated and visible from at least two nautical miles.

Infractions are not criminal.

The bill also prohibits boaters from anchoring or mooring within 20 feet of a mangrove or public lands. Exceptions are provided in the bill for boats experiencing mechanical failure that poses unreasonable risk or harm to the boat or its passengers or operators. That exception allows the boat operator to anchor the boat for up to three days or until the boat is repaired, whichever occurs first.

Boaters may also anchor near mangroves or public lands in inclement weather until conditions improve.

First offenses to the rules proposed under Rouson’s bill carry a $100 fine, up from a previous fine for other boating infractions of just $50. Second offenses carry a $250 fine and third or subsequent offenses would cost boaters $500.

If a boater is cited more than three times within a 12 month period would be declared a public nuisance.

The bill also calls for a $250,000 appropriation to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to study the impacts of long-term stored vessels on local communities and the state.

Rouson’s bill does not yet have a House companion.

Janelle Irwin Taylor has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in Tampa Bay since 2003. Most recently, Janelle reported for the Tampa Bay Business Journal. She formerly served as senior reporter for WMNF News. Janelle has a lust for politics and policy. When she’s not bringing you the day’s news, you might find Janelle enjoying nature with her husband, children and two dogs. You can reach Janelle at Janelle@floridapolitics.com.

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