Guest commentary: Eric LeVine ... Open letter to all snowbird boaters

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Open letter to all snowbird boaters:

Yes, you are back in Naples, and you intend to justify the preposterous expense of the maintenance of a yacht you barely touch.

The waters of Naples Bay and the Gulf, getting clearer and colder by the day, are making you giddy for the liquor store and the fuel dock, which you will both leave with a feeling of foreboding. That image of “the perfect day” is nonetheless stuck in your head (it might even be the name of your boat), and you will step aboard with a happiness that is part pride and part hope, starting your engine(s) thinking the time for fun is running out, just like dollars from your wallet.

We, the local sailors and fishermen who live upon these waters 52 weeks a year are mostly happy to see you (mostly — there are grim scalawags among us). Your boats are pleasant to the eye; you stimulate our economy and feed our families; and we are all brothers on the water, all equal in the pursuit of happiness and fear of death. So for our sake, and that of our descendants, please remember some of the rules that we set to be as safe as possible.

* Don’t drive too fast in the channels. If you’re overtaking a smaller, slower vessel, remember that slowing to half throttle actually increases your wake. What goes around comes around, so treat others like you would like to be treated.

* Give all vessels a wide berth. If this means decreasing speed, do so, with plenty of room to spare. This is not Top Gun; you may not request a fly-by. Six feet is not an acceptable distance for a high-speed pass. Except for the Coast Guard and local law enforcement, absolutely no one can claim to be in a hurry on the water, so there is no excuse for dangerous maneuvers.

* Your VHF radio is not a toy. Monitor Channel 16 at all times. Also, Channel 16 is for hailing and emergencies; no chatting about the scenery, the Super Bowl, or your English mastiff’s favorite food. You’re welcome to another working channel for that.

* Don’t get drunk. If you don’t know whether you’re drunk or not, you’re drunk. You shouldn’t be operating a boat.

* Safety first is not a funny quote. Check your bilge, use your blowers, have a Mae West for everybody on board. Keep water out of the boat; that’s not funny either.

* Don’t pollute: this means no cigarette butts, no beer cans, oil, fuel, rags, fishing lines, fishing nets, Buckeyes T-shirts, toothbrushes, backstage passes to Fiona Apple, etc. If you want your grandchildren to enjoy the Gulf without getting ill, leave it cleaner than you found it.

* Do not fish, drift, or anchor in the channel. It’s disrespectful and illegal.

* Pick up “The Annapolis Guide to Seamanship’’ and read up on navigation lights. * You are not allowed the constant use of headlights/spotlights on your boat at night: they affect other mariners’ vision. You are not driving a car, and this is not a highway. If you have trouble making out the channel markers, get a GPS, motor slowly, or stay off the water after sunset.

So! Whether you’re trying to impress your friends burning 70 gallons an hour on your seven-figure cruise ship, or putt-putting about with your wife and Sparky, sipping a weak gin and tonic on a 20-year-old pontoon, remember that boats are always trying to sink, and when things go bad on the water, they really go bad. A good mariner is a cautious mariner.

Be safe out there, and enjoy what beautiful Florida has to offer.

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