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US Coast Guards talks safety ahead of Gasparilla Boat Parade

We are days away from the pirate invasion! But you can't have fun without putting safety first.

TAMPA, Fla. — Gasparilla is a must-do event for people living in or visiting the Tampa Bay area. It's a tradition more than a century old, scheduled for January 28.

The Gasparilla Pirate Fest is from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. in Tampa. It's the 105th Gasparilla Invasion and Parade of the Pirates. Roughly half a million people are expected to attend this year. 

The day is jam-packed with activities, starting with the Pirates' invitation. 

  • The Gasparilla Invasion — 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Tampa Convention Center
  • The Gasparilla Parade of Pirates — 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. at Bayshore Boulevard and Bay to Bay
  • Gasparilla Pirate Fest — 10 a.m.

During the invasion, you'll see hundreds of boaters on the water "defending" the city of Tampa as a part of a boat parade along Hillsborough Bay. 

More than 100 floats participate in the Parade of the Pirates. The parade route is 4.5 miles long. 

Happening all day long, Pirate Fest is where you can catch live music at Curtis Hixon Park and MacDill Park. 

With half a million people expected to turn out, the safety measures are extensive. When it comes to water safety, the U.S. Coast Guard has rules and regulations in place to keep all mariners safe. 

"It's essentially controlled crashes, a lot of bumper boats," Capt. Dylan Hubbard said. Hubbard charters boats that participate in the Gasparilla boat parade. "We just do the best we can to go as slow as possible."

On the water, it's not just people out and about for fun. It's a lot of law enforcement officers. 

"Coast guard presence, sheriff boats, FWC out in the water, there's a lot of law enforcement," Hubbard described. "Law enforcement is exponentially higher in a lot more concentrated area."

For the day of the parade, there will be a new set of rules in place on the water. 

"It will include a 100-yard safety zone around the Jose Gaspar while it is transiting those waters," Lt. Com. Eunice James, Chief of Waterways Management Division for the USCG said. "Mariners are advised to stay at least 50 feet away from the vessels participating in the boat parade."

In order to keep the parade safe, unmotorized vessels, jet skis, and vessels less than 10 feet in length are prohibited from participating, according to the USCG.

A concern every year at the boat parade: illegal boat charters. An easy way to check if the charter you're boarding is legal: ask to see the Coast Guard Captain's License. They're required on board any charter.

"Captains with credentials are specifically trained captains in seamanship," Brian Napp, the Investigations Division Chief, said. "They've been tested and meet the coast guards standards to be credentialed captains to take passengers for hire."

Even if you're not on a charter, if your boat has seven or more people on it, special certification is required. 

With bigger crowds expected this year, the Coast Guard is recommending you plan ahead to ensure your day stays as safe as possible.

Malique Rankin is a general assignment reporter with 10 Tampa Bay. You can email her story ideas at mrankin@10tampabay.com and follow her Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram pages

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