Politicians, community leaders unite to advocate for stronger boating safety laws | Key Biscayne
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Politicians, community leaders unite to advocate for stronger boating safety laws | Key Biscayne

State Rep. Vicki Lopez was among many Miami-Dade County officials who braved a heat advisory last week to deliver an important message at the Crandon Park Marina in Key Biscayne.

“In recent years, we have witnessed horrific tragedies that could have and should have been prevented,” Lopez said, noting that his district encompasses the Biscayne Bay coastline from Edgewater to Coconut Grove.

Lopez said she is working with the Key Biscayne Community Foundation and village officials to push for stronger boating safety laws in Tallahassee. She is sending those recommendations to Rep. Adam Botana, a boating enthusiast “who has committed to working closely with me.”

“This is definitely the beginning for me,” said Lopez, who will also work closely with Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava.

Lopez said Sen. Ileana Garcia of Miami has supported the overall boater safety effort and wanted to recognize her. Lopez also thanked the Miami Marine Patrol for the “hard work” it does, not only on holidays, but also on weekends, weekdays and nights.

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State Representative Lopez speaking to the press.

Some proposals being considered by lawmakers include making the charge of leaving the scene of a boating accident a felony and suspending the driver’s licenses of people caught boating under the influence of alcohol, said Chief Assistant State’s Attorney Stephen K. Talpins.

Officials from the U.S. Coast Guard, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission and numerous coastal cities have worked together to strengthen law enforcement in Biscayne Bay.

In 2023, the Coast Guard reported 619 boating accidents that resulted in 56 deaths and 368 injuries in Florida, Talpins added.

Additionally, the Coast Guard released its 2022 annual report, reporting 4,040 boating accidents across America, including 636 deaths and 2,222 injuries. The most common causes of death are drowning, trauma and cardiac arrest.

County Commissioner Raquel Regalado, whose district includes Key Biscayne, asked boaters to use “common sense” and urged them to have the proper equipment and training before taking a ride.

Mayor Cava has stressed throughout the summer the need to always wear a life jacket, respect speed limits, avoid alcohol and be aware of weather conditions and boat traffic.

One of the featured speakers last week was Melissa Fernandez, the mother of Lucy Fernandez, who died at age 17 on Labor Day weekend in 2022 when the operator of the boat she was on struck a channel marker in South Biscayne Bay.

State Representative Vicki Lopez speaking on the topic.

She said it was everyone’s responsibility “to remain vigilant and aware of the potential dangers that always exist, but especially during these important and busy weekends.”

Earlier this year, Ella Adler, a 15-year-old first-grader at Ransom Everglades School, was struck and killed by a boat while waiting to be towed after falling off a wakeboard near Nixon Beach.

The accident sparked outrage and calls for urgent changes to Florida’s boating licensing rules and required education, as a petition with several hundred signatures was collected.

Mayor Cava urged boaters to “honor” the memory of Ella and Lucy by practicing safe boating.