Okaloosa moves forward on the creation of a ‘Waterway Rental Safety Committee’

At the January 19, 2021 Board meeting, the County Commission proposed the creation of a committee to assist the County in the creation of an ordinance and other measures related to marine livery safety, specifically as it relates to personal watercraft (jet skis) rentals, but also potentially pontoon boats rentals and other rental vessel/water related safety issues.

At Tuesday’s meeting, the Board decided that the ‘Waterway Rental Safety Committee’ would be structured as follows:

  • 2 Industry representatives
  • 5 appointed citizens from each County Commissioner
  • 1 representative from City of Destin (council appointed)
  • 1 representative from City of Fort Walton Beach (council appointed)

A representative from the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office, Okaloosa County and Destin Fire will ex-officio Committee members.

Background: Throughout this past summer there have been a series of on-water accidents involving jet ski and pontoon boat rentals that have resulted in severe injuries and at least 1 death.

According to County documents, outside of those formally recorded incidents, there have been many other reports of rentals demonstrating:

  • Excessive speeds in confined areas
  • Reckless boating
  • Minimal operational experience
  • No knowledge of local hazards/zones
  • An overall lack of boater courtesy

“There are a variety of measures that could be implemented to curb some of the ill effects of these rentals, realizing that no matter what precautions are put in place there will always be bad actors with both rentals and non-rentals alike,” wrote Craig Coffey, County Administrator.

This Committee is not expected to deal with Crab Island vendor issues or passenger related vendors such as sunset/dolphin cruises, snorkel trips, tiki huts, fishing boats and similar vendors where the vessels are not otherwise being leased and operated by the customer without the vendor present.

Moving forward: The County Attorney and staff are in the process of drafting a starting ordinance based on Lee County’s and Bay County’s ordinances on this issue and plan to have something to present to the group as a starting point for their first meeting.

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