MANATEE — In anticipation of people celebrating the unofficial end of summer this weekend, the Manatee County Marine Rescue Division, along with police departments countywide, are stepping up enforcement to ensure everyone’s safety.
“We’re handling it like we do every year,” said Marine Rescue Chief Ray Moyles. There will be a “good showing of police and Florida Wildlife Conservation,” on the beaches this weekend, he added.
Moyles’ main tips for beachgoers over the Labor Day holiday: Stay hydrated and have a plan.
“Have a good description of your child. God forbid he or she goes missing, it helps to say they were wearing black shorts with red flames,” he said.
Moyles also advises parents to take photos of their children before going out, so law enforcement has an up-to-date picture to go by in case something does go wrong.
People should always swim by a lifeguard, too.
“Come to a lifeguard with any questions. That’s what they’re there for,” Moyles said.
Those planning to go out on a boat, canoe or kayak are advised to have a float plan, which tells officials details of a person’s intended trip, type of vessel, equipment and crew in case something goes wrong at sea.
“You can put your float plan in the windshield of your car or give it to a friend,” Moyles said. “It’s not mandatory to bring, but it is a good idea to have one.”
In addition, children on boats should not sit in the rear of the boat due to a risk of carbon monoxide poisoning from the engine, and life jackets that fit should always be worn.
And most important, don’t drink and boat.
“Boating under the influence, like driving, is against the law,” said Moyles.
Back on land the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office will ramp up patrols as a part of the national campaign, “Drunk Driving. Over the Limit. Under Arrest.”
“People have been told over and over, don’t drink and drive. This is the easiest thing to prevent,” said Manatee County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Dave Bristow. “Just don’t get behind the wheel after drinking. It’s really simple.”
The Bradenton Police Department, Palmetto Police Department and Florida Highway Patrol also will be on DUI watch during the holiday weekend.
Those who drink and drive will be sent to jail, said Florida Highway Patrol Lt. Chris Miller.
In addition to jail time, offenders can also face fines of up to $1,000 for their first conviction. Fines go up with number of convictions, and so do other consequences.
“Make the responsible choice before you start drinking. Find a designated driver or arrange for a taxi,” Miller said.
In 2009, there were 838 vehicles stopped for impaired driving in Manatee, according to the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles.
Suspicious drivers can be reported to the sheriff’s office non-emergency number — (941) 708-8899 — and FHP officials also urge drivers to do the same by dialing *FHP (*347) on their cell phones.
“Mainly, traffic units conducting DUI patrols look for drivers who are aggressive or reckless,” said Bradenton Police Department Deputy Chief J.J. Lewis, adding that anyone who feels he or she is too intoxicated to drive can call a tow-to-go service.
The “Tow to Go” program is sponsored locally by Gold Coast Eagle Distributing and AAA Auto Club South.
Anyone who has had too much to drink can call (800) 222-4357 (800-AAA-HELP) and get a free ride home for themselves and tow for their vehicle.
“Bottom line, don’t drink and drive,” Lewis said.