The danger of wakes to small or slower moving boats that use the Caloosahatchee River and the rest of the Intracoastal Waterway is astounding. The No Wake and Resume Safe Speed signs are insufficient to awake aggressive boat captains to their responsibility to safely control their speed and wakes.
We recently collided with a 40 foot Sea Ray that speeded up toward the stern of our boat, changed from port to starboard at the last minute without slowing and catching our boat between its wakes which caused a collision. Two to four thousand dollars of damage was done to our boat, but fortunately no injuries.
When we recounted this incident to long term Moore Haven boaters they immediately related horror stories of small boat encounters with dangerous wakes. Fishermen capsizing and drowning, a woman falling in her boat and breaking her back, another her wrist, on and on. These are hit and and run accidents. There is no way the injured parties have a chance to identify or locate the perpetrator for prosecution. They are preoccupied with saving their boat or themselves from injury or death. The officer from Fish and Wildlife who took our accident information, made this clear when he said, ” if I didn’t see the accident I can’t ticket them”. What are the odds that an officer would be around to witness one of these accidents? Furthermore, this last year was the highest mortality rate for manatees on the waterways of Florida. More than 500 deaths and 9 out of 10 were caused by boat collisions.
This dangerous situation can be fixed. It will need cooperation between the lock masters and law enforcement on the waterways. How fast a boat is going between locks can be calculated. If a boat is going a safe speed it will reach the next lock in a certain range of time. If a boat is going at excessive, dangerous speeds, it will get there much sooner. Boaters can be warned as they leave the locks that lock masters can detain them and discuss safe boating with them if they are found turning up too quickly at the next lock. Just the delay, for most boaters, will change their behavior.
It needs to be understood by boat captains who say, “I didn’t see a No Wake sign, I can go as fast as I want,” that they can’t go as fast as they want. Any small or slower boat they are approaching is a No Wake sign. Why? Because people and animals die.
There needs to be a program to educate boaters about what Resume Safe Speed means. The notorious Miserable Mile in Ft. Myers is another example of lack of law enforcement. Just a few tickets up and down the Intracoastal would help solve this problem.