Operation Kid Float 

Boating Prep & Safety

All citizens who wish to legally operate a motor vehicle on the road must possess a valid driver’s license or learner’s permit. However, the same cannot be said about citizens on the water.

Although Florida law now requires boat-operators born after January 1, 1988, to complete an approved boater education course and receive a “Florida Boating Safety Education ID Card,” there are exceptions.

This means responsible vessel operators should arm themselves with boating knowledge and rules of the water, as well as remain alert for the many other boaters who don’t.

To help prepare citizens and encourage safe, responsible boating, the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office sponsors programs like “Operation Kid-Float,” a boating safety education and personal flotation device (PFD) loaner program.

Florida law requires that one PFD, or “lifejacket,” per passenger be readily accessible on the vessel at all times, and children under age 6 must wear PFDs while underway.

Through Operation Kid-Float, boaters can pick up available PCSO-owned PFDs at popular boat ramps throughout the county, including Dunedin City Marina, John Chestnut Park in Palm Harbor, and Fort De Soto Boat Ramp in Tierra Verde. The PCSO Marine Facility in Indian Shores is also available for drop off only.

In addition to the operation’s message board kiosk locations, marine deputies carry loaner PFDs onboard to distribute as necessary during boat safety equipment inspections.

When marine deputies are patrolling Pinellas County’s nearly 588 coastal miles on busy holiday weekends, they also keep an eye out for children who are already sporting their PFDs and reward them with Operation Kid-Float t-shirts.

Although Operation Kid-Float has seen great success since its implementation through Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) grant funds in 2011, PFD possession is only one way to stay safe on the water. Before you boat, adhere to these key safety tips:

  • Complete a safe boating course: Driving a car and operating a boat require different skill sets and knowledge about entirely different rules and regulations. Enrolling in an in-person or online boaters’ safety course is a great way to learn the rules of the water and familiarize yourself with basic boating principles. Visit the National Safe Boating Council website for links to several approved online courses.
  • Know your boat: Before you set sail, get familiar with the vessel you are operating and the area you are navigating, including water depth, tides, weather, slow or idle speed requirements, and swim exclusion and restricted zones.
  • Get equipped: PFDs aren’t the only required boating gear. Visit the FWC’s website for a list of other mandatory items based on what type of boat you have.
  • Scan constantly: There are no stop signs or traffic lights on the water, so you MUST constantly scan the water for other boaters, swimmers, water skiers, or stumps and other landmarks jutting up from the water that could severely damage your boat or harm you and others.
  • File a “float plan”: Share your trip details – where you’re going, when you plan to return, passengers’ names, and boat information – with a responsible person before you launch, in case you lose contact in an emergency. Make sure to contact that person when you return safely.
  • Don’t boat under the influence: Remember, operating any vehicle – including a boat – while impaired by drugs or alcohol is illegal and can end in a lot worse than a citation. Just as you would before a night out on the town, designate a sober driver for days on the water.

For more boating safety tips, visit the FWC, National Boating Safety Council, and the BoatUS Foundation websites.

And, of course, don’t forget the sunscreen!


Thursday, June 8, 2017 2:08:00 PM

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