Sandbar Safety

From Crab Island in Destin to Peanut Island in Palm Beach, and nearly every other sandspit along the coast, boaters of all ages enjoy their time at the local sandbar while soaking in the summer sun. Whether it’s too breezy to head offshore or it’s the only agenda for the day, relaxing on the water with family and friends is hard to beat. Unfortunately, common courtesy and fundamental safe boating practices are often forgotten at the sandbar, but here it’s more important than ever to exercise extreme caution in order to ensure the safety of your passengers and those around you.


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Photo: 30-A Studios

Each and every weekend of the summer, boaters around the state gather at the local sandbar to take in the sights and sounds. And although a large percentage of boaters are considerate and compliant to noted rules on the water, the boating bacchanals that take place in the shallows certainly contribute to the fact that Florida is the nationwide leader in boating accidents, injuries and fatalities.

Unfortunately, even the best days have to come to an end. Before departing a flotilla, diligently scan the surrounding water for people and pets.

Like clockwork, a flotilla of boats will arrive from all points in all types of craft ranging from yachts to airboats, and center consoles to kayaks. If it floats it will be at the sandbar on Saturday, but operators must remember to remain within their legal limits because law enforcement officers from numerous agencies will be on the hunt for violators…that’s one thing you can count on.

Many of the favored hangouts are in the vicinity of local inlets and passes so boaters can enjoy the influx of clean ocean water when conditions allow, which means extra care must be taken because there will likely be traffic from nearby anglers and boaters. Drawing huge crowds, local sandbars are often exposed or shallow enough to wade at low tide, but can also be too deep to stand at high tide. As conditions change you must always be aware of your vessel’s mooring, as well as the location and wellbeing of your passengers.

A growing concern for law enforcement officers statewide, sandbars, spoil islands and uninhabited shorelines across the state have become party hot spots that encourage alcohol abuse. Organized events and raft-ups coinciding with holiday weekends bring even higher concentrations of vessels to small areas and it’s no surprise accidents arise. Unfortunately, many of the safety concerns are a direct result of lack of education and experience. Nearly two-thirds of the operators involved in Florida boating fatalities last year had no formal marine training. Combine this statistic with heavy alcohol consumption and the results are tragic.

Before heading to the local sandbar it’s important you are prepared with the proper equipment. Since it’s common to bring more passengers than you would typically accommodate on a fishing trip, you’ll need to make sure you have additional life vests along with the USCG required safety equipment. Law enforcement agencies are on high alert on crowded days at the sandbar and routine vessel stops and safety checks can be expected. Additionally, you’ll want to make sure you have an anchor, fender and dock lines in case you choose to raft up to another boat. If you’re going at it on your own, choose a spot that suits your liking. Whether you settle in the shallows, close to deep water, away from loud music, or in the mix of the party, slowly idle into position until you are ready to drop anchor or beach the bow on the sandbar.

If you are going to raft up, it’s important the largest vessel starts the chain with a secure anchor. Once the largest boat is secured, then additional vessels can slowly approach and raft up with fenders and lines ready to go. From here it’s important the lines are secured so the fenders keep the boats from rocking back and forth against each other. It’s also critical to monitor your vessel and those around you throughout the day as changing tides alter the way vessels rest on anchor. Additionally, make certain that no one ever places their hands, feet or body between boats as they risk serious injury. And if you are tied between boats and plan on leaving early, you better have an exit plan in place or you might be stuck for longer than expected. Unfortunately, even the best days have to come to an end. Before departing a flotilla, diligently scan the surrounding water for people and pets.

While you can’t always count on NOAA, one thing you can be certain of is that if you spend enough time at the local sandbar, you will observe countless situations of recklessness by careless boat operators. This means helmsmen must be on high alert and always practice defensive driving. Never assume another boater is under full control, and always make sure there is a sober driver on your vessel. The effects of the sun, heat and saltwater make the excessive consumption of alcohol and operating a vessel a deadly combination. See you at the sandbar.