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Memorial Day kicking off a very busy boating season in South Florida

Posted at 4:54 AM, May 28, 2019
and last updated 2019-05-28 05:22:38-04

RIVIERA BEACH, Fla. -- Memorial Day marks the unofficial start of summer.

Many are taking full advantage of that by heading out on the water.

Parks and boat ramps across the area were packed on Monday as thousands of people across Palm Beach County took their boats and watercraft out for the holiday.

At one point, Phil Foster Park in Riviera Beach was closed because the lot was at capacity. PBSO deputies were on site to help handle the traffic volume.

Even though Monday's boating day is in the books, we're told it's just the beginning of a very busy summer.

“It’s a beautiful day here," said veteran Skip Herbert.

WPTV caught him lounging on his boat around Peanut Island on Monday with fellow veteran, Hayes Barbier, spending their Memorial Day reflecting and floating on the peaceful blue water.

“Well, around 2 p.m. or 3 p.m., that’s when the crazies come out!" he joked, talking about the crowds of people expected to show up around him.

That’s why law enforcement and companies like SeaTow and TowBoat US are out to make sure people don’t ruin the fun for everyone.

“If you just use a tiny bit of thought, just a tiny bit. Because every time somebody has a boating accident or any kind of accident, they’re like, 'Oh I knew better than that,'" said Herbert.

WPTV took a cruise on the water with TowBoat U.S. captain Chris Shaffner on Monday as he coordinated his team to respond to calls across the area.

“It’s a busy day out here on Peanut Island," said Shaffner. “The kids are out of school next week. And it gets busier and busier and busier."

During our ride, there were at least 400 boats around Peanut Island alone.

“We get a lot of grounding calls were people spend a little too much time at the sandbar in their boat get stuck," said Shaffner. "We get a lot of people who run out of fuel, a lot of dead batteries with everyone’s music going.”

They can also help give you a ride or a tow if you’ve drank too much.

“We’re on 24/7, 365," said Shaffner.

With a busy summer ahead, Shaffner said boaters should be prepared to get stopped by law enforcement at least once.

“And if you’re spending a lot of time on what we call congregation areas, you can expect to get stopped multiple times," he said.

It's happened to Herbert many times, but he says he always prepared.

“I’ve been checked many many times and after a while they get tired of checking you because they know you have everything," said Herbert. “And sometimes they even give you a sticker to put on your boat that says you’ve been checked.”

By law, police are allowed to stop boats at random to check for registration and safety.

To ensure you don't get yourself into trouble, make sure your safety gear is in check with a life vest, working radio, flares, a GPS tracker, and even an EPIRB (Emergency Position Indicator Radio Beacons) in case of an emergency. Put those items in an easy to access place. The law requires a life vest for every single passenger.

“You don’t always have time to do all the things that you think you’re supposed to be able to do, so making sure that your safety gear is easily accessible and within reach at all times, can really make the difference between getting home safely and potentially not," said Shaffner.

And always ensure that there is a designated boat driver who is not drinking at all. A boating under the influence charge can cost someone up to $2,000 in fines.

“A lot of people having a good time. There’s nothing wrong with that but when a good time turns into a bad time because you’ve had too much to drink, it's really bad,” said Shaffner.