Madeira Beach makes bid to slow down boaters

Boaters abound at John’s Pass on a warm weekend last year. City leaders have a message to boaters speeding through Madeira Beach’s waterways: slow down.

MADEIRA BEACH — City leaders have a message to boaters speeding through Madeira Beach’s waterways: slow down.

Commissioners reinforced that message April 14 when they unanimously signed off on an ordinance that would designate most of the waterways within the city as minimum wake zones. The only exceptions would be state-regulated channels at John’s Pass and the Intracoastal Waterway, and no-wake zones, which would remain in place.

The move comes after many residents have complained to the city about waves from speeding boaters causing damage to their property.

“The boats continually fly through, sometimes only a few feet off our docks, making it impossible to swim, kayak or any other slow activity without being scared of being ran over,” resident Jerry Bridges of John’s Pass Avenue wrote in an email that was read to commissioners during their virtual meeting. “I actually had my rod and reel taken out of my hand by a boat the other day that came through and did not see me fishing.”

Mayor John Hendricks, who is a boater, said he agrees with people like Bridges who say changes must be made to protect property, residents and wildlife, such as manatees.

“Not only do we need to pass this, but we need to get all these canals to where they’re no wake, and we need to get the sheriff’s department out there enforcing it,” Hendricks said.

The new rules aren’t in place yet, though. The amendment to the marine speed zone ordinance still needs to be approved a second time by the commission and then by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, which controls all boating safety regulations on state waterways.

The city had already passed a resolution urging FWC to slow the speed outside the main channel on Crystal Island to minimum wake (30 mph). City staff then discussed the request with FWC officials, who recommended the city streamline its ordinance, said Community Development Director Linda Portal.

“It actually makes the ordinance a lot simpler to use and it’s a lot more clear-cut that when you’re in Madeira Beach waters, you are operating at a low speed and creating a low-wake throughout the city,” she said.

If the FWC approves the changes, Hendricks and Commissioner Helen Price said the next challenge would be education and enforcement.

Hendricks said residents used to be able to purchase no-wake zone signs from the city and post them at their docks, and he would like to offer that again.

“It’s going to be hard for the city to go around and put up pilings and put up signs, but I bought a couple of those signs myself and I’d like to see us offer that to the residents of Madeira Beach,” he said.