If you believe there is no boating season in Florida, take a look at the boat ramp parking lots any weekend.
From now until fall, our waters will be crowded and some of those at the helm will be inexperienced. Watching out for your vessel, your passengers, others in and on the water, and yourself is the responsibility of every captain.
Last year, close to 60 people perished while boating in Florida and so far this year 13 have died. Those are scary numbers.
Let's go over a few safety reminders to get things started. As you know, each boat must contain a wearable flotation device for every person on board and at least one throwable device, such as a cushion or ring. All children six and under must wear a PFD (personal floatation device) at all times when on the water. A fire extinguisher and a noisemaker are also a must. Each year many of the problems happen at dusk or dawn.
Times of poor light may cause a captain to be fooled. If you are boating an unfamiliar area take it slow. If you must move your boat in the dark, a "no wake" speed is best. If you must anchor in a swift tide or any strong current, never anchor off the stern. No outboard is as strong in reverse as in forward and may not have the power to push against the current to free the anchor. Throw your sea hook off the bow.
Whenever I speak to groups, the inevitable question about the danger from our large predators is one of the first asked. Newcomers to the area worry a lot about sharks, alligators and barracudas. Yes, it is true we are the world leader in shark bites, but seldom are those bites serious. Most of the nips happen to surfers near Ponce Inlet and only take a few stitches to repair. While that is certainly no fun, they are not life-threatening bites.
To stay safe from sharks, you should never swim at dusk or dawn and surely not at night. Those are the times when the big predators are looking to eat. I am often asked if sharks venture into our brackish water estuaries and that answer is "sure." The smallest of creeks could contain sharks and the very aggressive bull sharks love the fresh water.
Barracuda bites in Volusia County are practically non-existent, but not impossible. Remember when releasing a fish, keep your fingers out of the water.
Alligators are especially frightening to visitors and some locals. Tourists seem to think that every alligator is poised to attack humans. Nothing could be further from the truth. Humans are the biggest threat to gators and they know that. If you encounter an alligator, make sure it sees you and it will beat a hasty retreat. Trouble usually happens when someone startles an alligator.
We do have one local predator that is indiscriminately vicious. The danged no-see-ums will attack humans without warning. If you have yet to feel the sting of a swarm of those bloodthirsty gnats, you are very fortunate. Almost invisible, they seem to come in a cloud and will set every inch of your exposed skin on fire. Florida is famous for our big mosquitoes, but I will take them any day over the gnats. At least with skeeters you can see something to swat. Never venture out in the hot months without lots of personal insect repellent.
Once my wife, Lana, and I had our kids out for a nice time picking seashells on Sanibel Island when out of nowhere the no-see-ums came. Lana pulled out a very tall can of spray to save us, but most of the people on the beach were not so ready. We could have sold repellent for 20 bucks a spray right then.
Don't miss the great fun of being on the water this summer, but please be safe. There is no need to worry about taking a swim in the surf even if Volusia County will surely once more lead the world in shark bites. Remember you don't have to be able to swim faster than a shark -- just faster than the slowest person with you.
Dan Smith has fished the waters of Volusia County for more than 40 years. Email questions and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. His book, "I Swear the Snook Drowned," is available for $10.95 at (386) 441-7793.