Weekend boating speed lowered

The County Commission tightens the rules for boaters in Kings Bay, hoping to better protect people and manatees.

Published May 27, 2005

CRYSTAL RIVER - As the summer boating season opens this weekend, officials are hoping some changes in the law will make it a safer Memorial Day than last year's for both boaters and endangered manatees.

The boat speed limit on Kings Bay drops to idle speed - no wake allowed - from noon Saturday until midnight Monday. Those speed limits were enacted by the County Commission last summer after the state's Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission failed to post lower speed limits on the waterway as it had done for years during busy holiday weekends.

Residents, led by former Crystal River Mayor Curtis Rich, had urged the commission to pass the ordinance after seeing what happened on the crowded waterway when no speed limits were in effect. A family visiting from Kissimmee watched in horror as a boat speeding through the bay struck a manatee surfacing for air. Later, a dead manatee was found in the area; it had died from blunt trauma from a boat strike.

Also last Memorial Day weekend, a man broke his pelvis when a personal watercraft collided with a small boat.

The city of Crystal River had discussed setting some sort of speed rule for the holiday weekends, but the city attorney pointed out there might be problems enacting such a city ordinance.

With the county's ordinance now in place, a contractor for the state will post signs by today and state officers will enforce the speed rules throughout the weekend, said Karen Parker, spokeswoman for the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

The County Commission tweaked the ordinance earlier this week, providing a clearer definition of holiday weekends and delineating exactly where Kings Bay ends and the Crystal River begins.

"Once the county enacted the ordinance, we were good to go," Parker said.

With nearly 1-million registered boats in Florida, the agency this year is pushing boaters to follow the rules, use safety equipment and avoid drinking and operating a boat.

"We want people to have a good time, but it gets really crowded out there," Parker said.

While manatees are seen in large numbers in Kings Bay throughout the winter season, boaters who use the waterways regularly say they see plenty of the endangered animals in the water throughout the year. During an aerial survey last week, federal officials spotted 99 manatees in area waters, including 63 in Kings Bay. In that group there were 13 manatee calves.

Barbara Behrendt can be reached at 564-3621 or behrendt@sptimes.com