First responders caution safety on waterways during Memorial Day weekend

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As boaters take to South Florida waterways on Memorial Day weekend, safe sailing is a top priority for local first responders.

Speaking with 7News on Friday, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Maj. Alfredo Escanio said boats will be out on the water in big numbers if the weather is good.

“It ramps up. It’s probably the busiest holiday weekend in the state,” he said.

Every agency in South Florida is geared up for the holiday. They’ll be out in full force to help keep people safe.

“It is a very fun weekend, and we should all enjoy it, but it can be very dangerous and fatal in the blink of an eye,” said Miami-Dade Police Marine Patrol Lt. Michael Barrios.

Fort Lauderdale Fire Rescue Capt. Jib Webster said there is plenty boaters can do to help.

“Have someone who’s responsible, someone who’s not drinking, who can be responsible for all the people on your vessel,” he said.

A 7News crew joined the crew of a Fort Lauderdale Fire Rescue boat on Friday.

They cruised by what are expected to be some of the busier places, like a sandbar called the Triangle.

“People like to raft up their boats together and enjoy wading in the shallow waters,” said Webster.

But shallow water can be dangerous as well, because people dive in not knowing the depth.

“We’ve had two instances where people were paralyzed doing exactly that,” said Webster.

At the Haulover Sandbar, U.S. Coast Guard crews are limiting boats tied up to five to try to keep crowds down.

This time last year, COVID wiped out the holiday weekend. Beaches were empty.

But the crowds are back, and many of them have a new toy with them.

Personal watercraft, a popular pandemic purchase, are ripping through the waters this weekend.

North Bay Village Police Officer Kenny Hendon discussed the increase in JetSkis and WaveRunners with 7News investigative reporter Karen Hensel, last week.

“It’s definitely increased. Has it gotten a lot worse? Yeah. There’s been a lot more out here. Ninety-five percent of the problems out here come from these rentals,” said Hendon.

The message from first responders is clear: if you’re on a boat or a personal watercraft, please be safe.

“We want you to come out and enjoy the weekend, enjoy the waterways but do so responsibly,” said Escanio.

Rescue crews will be checking vessels to ensure every single person on board has a life jacket.

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