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Law enforcement, rental operators emphasize safety over an uptick in the use of personal watercraft

In 2021, more than a dozen accidents resulted in injuries in Sarasota and Manatee counties while there were two fatalities in Pinellas County.

SARASOTA, Fla. — Many schools in our area have started closing for the summer and some families have already activated their Memorial Day holiday weekend plans.

Some of them will be on the water enjoying quality time with family and friends on boats or engaging in water sports activities on personal water crafts. That's why law enforcement leaders and personal watercraft rental operators in Sarasota are urging users to heed safety guidelines and laws.

As folks head out for some fun on the water they are urging, especially personal watercraft users, to play safe.

Several boat ramps in the Tampa Bay area were busier than normal Friday as the Memorial Day Holiday weekend got underway.

According to law enforcement leaders, the use of personal watercraft has become a big hit for fun seekers on holiday weekends and many people are purchasing their own for personal use.

The rental business is also booming in the area because of a huge influx of tourists.

"Anywhere from 30 to 50, maybe 60 Jet Skis, are on the water from our company and different companies," Marshall Germond of Siesta Key Jet Ski in Sarasota said.

Several operators said they have noticed the uptick and the volume of traffic can present a hazard.

"You always want to keep your head on a swivel and be aware of your surroundings," Jason Ross of Sunworld Water Sports also in Sarasota said. "You can be perfect with what you're doing but you have no control over what someone else is doing."

They're used in shallow or deep water and can get in the way of or collide with other vessels, and according to the operators, the most common problem they hear about is going too fast in slow zones. 

"Those slow zones are there for a reason for things like manatees and in wildlife areas," Germond said. "Not to mention, boats that are docked up to people's homes. You could damage those, or anything for that matter, and we don't want them to get a ticket from Sarasota County Sheriff's Office, FWC or Sarasota Police. That's the wrong souvenir to get while you are out there."

Those Law enforcement agencies will be out patrolling the waters in full force as part of the Safe Boating Week joint operation with the U.S. Coast Guard.

"The personal watercraft industry, in general, has exploded right here and you can just drive up and down 41, here, or anywhere near the water, and see the availability of those, whether it is for purchase and for rentals," Sarasota County Sheriff Kurt Hoffman said.

The latest data on boating from FWC in 2021 showed more than a dozen accidents that resulted in injuries in Sarasota and Manatee counties while there were two fatalities in Pinellas involving personal watercraft.

"You've got to be extra careful both when you're operating a vessel around the personal watercraft and also the personal watercraft operators," Hoffman said. 

Hoffman said, most importantly, just as with driving on land, vessel operators are urged to ensure their passengers are safely secure and properly fitted with a life vest, and that they stay sober, focused and alert. 

"Distractions lead to injuries and deaths on vessels every year," he said. 

"Not everybody is as responsible as they should be," Ross added. "Be prepared for dealing with someone that doesn't know what they're doing."

Law enforcement leaders are encouraging a thorough safety check of a vessel, for safety equipment on board before you head out on the water and adhering to safety laws and regulations while you are out there.

They're also randomly checking rental businesses as well as personal watercraft users and boaters alike to make sure they're making safety a priority.

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