Safety Information

Before you come down to Marathon to rent a boat, for the safety of your family and everyone else, please be sure to review this video so you have a better understanding of the requirements here in the Florida Keys.

Using a GPS

A Global Positioning System (GPS) is a wonderful tool for finding that fishing hole or special location but if you don’t read your water first and understand what you are seeing then the GPS will get you in trouble.  Remember a single waypoint is merely a location and not a safe PATH to your destination.

If You Run Aground!

IMMEDIATELY SHUT DOWN THE ENGINE TO IDLE SPEED AND TURN IT OFF. TILT THE ENGINE SO THAT IT IS OUT OF THE WATER OR AS FAR AS POSSIBLE.  CALL XXX-XXX-XXXXBY CELL PHONE AND EXPLAIN THE SITUATION.  DESCRIBE YOUR WHEREABOUTS BY THE GPS SETTINGS OR MAJOR LANDMARKS.  IF YOU ARE FLOATING OFF OF THE BOTTOM OR OBSTRUCTION, MAKE SURE WE KNOW IT.  THE BOAT MAY BE TOO DAMAGED TO PROCEED.  IF YOUR CELL PHONE CAN NOT MAKE THE CONNECTION, USE THE VHF RADIO…CHANNEL 11.

Mooring Buoys for Diving

Many divers use the state of the art mooring buoy system in the Florida Keys National marine Sanctuary.  It is available to anyone that wants to use it.  In the Marathon area, you will find these at Coffins Patch and Sombero Light.

General etiquette applies to these buoys.  The buoys are on a “first-come first-served” basis, but it is important that you use the buoy, do your diving, and vacate so someone else can enjoy a dive. Remember this buoy system is set up for diving and not fishing.  It can be illegal to fishing in these areas.

What to Look For When Operating a Boat in the Keys

Navigating the shallow waters throughout the Florida Keys requires special attention if you are unfamiliar with the waters.  Here is an easy way to remember some of the situations you will come across when traveling the Keys by boat.

If you look closely at the picture on the left, you can see the difference between the water colors. The shallow seagrass area appears brown and shows a distinct shallowing of the waters.

BROWN, BROWN…RUN AGROUND

Reef formations that grow close to the surface and shallow sea grass beds will make the water appear BROWN.  These areas should be avoided to keep from damaging the boat and sensitive habitats by running aground.  Please remember:  Anytime you run aground and cause damage to the reef or shallow habitat you may be accessed a fine for that damage.  See Code of Federal Regulations: 15 CFR 922 Subpart P.

USE EXTRA CAUTION 

when there is extensive cloud cover, a glassy calm sea state, extreme sun glare and with murky waters.  These are conditions where colors may be apparent.  Polarized sunglasses are always very helpful in this situation and can help detect shallow waters.

WHITE, WHITE…YOU MIGHT

Sand bars and shallow rubble areas appear white.  These areas can be deceptively shallow.  Navigate with caution around these areas.

As you can see from the picture above, sandbars that show up white can also be quite shallow.  The sandbar only shows white because of its composition consists of sand silica and ground coral.  Here you can also see brown water at the edge of the sandbar and probably too dangerous to travel over by boat without damaging the boat or the environment.

GREEN, GREEN…NICE AND CLEAN

Green water usually means areas of shallow reefs or seagrass beds.  Navigation of rental boats with shallow drafts in these areas are generally safe.  However, larger deeper draft boats still should exercise caution.  All boaters should carry and consult the appropriate NOAA chart.

In this picture, you can see the transition between white water (very shallow) to green water and then to blue water.  The green water is generally deep enough to travel but still requires some caution because of how rapidly the sandbar can rise from the water.

BLUE, BLUE…CRUISE ON THROUGH

Deep water areas, like the ocean side of a barrier reef, will start to show blue waters.  Navigation in these areas a usually free from hazardous contact unless there is some floating.  Remember, however, that coral reefs can rise abruptly from deep water so give yourself plenty of room to maneuver.

Here you are seeing all types of water and all types of depths.  The blue water is deep enough to support large sailboat travel with deep keels.  You can see the transition areas to the shallower green water and brown waters.  White water, in this case, is the sand that has piled up on the coral base of the Dry Tortugas and Fort Jefferson…too shallow for rental boats.

Mooring Buoys for Diving

Many divers use the state of the art mooring buoy system in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.  It is available to anyone that wants to use it and it is always a good idea when you are in an environmentally sensitive area.  In the Marathon area, you will find these at Coffins Patch and Sombero Light.

General etiquette applies to these buoys.  The buoys are on a “first-come first-served” basis, but it is important that you use the buoy, do your diving, and vacate so someone else can enjoy a dive. Remember this buoy system is set up for diving and not fishing.  It can be illegal to fishing in these areas.

Hooking up to the Thunderbolt Wreck

“The Thunderbolt has no marker. The depth of the water is 120′. There are two mooring buoys, one on the bow and one on the stern, but they’re under the water at 15′ and 20′ down. There’s a metal ring on top of the buoys. Someone will need to free dive down with a line from the boat and pass it thru the ring, then cleat it off on your boat. This is a protected area. Special rules and regulations do apply. The saying is “Take only photos and leave only bubbles.” It’s located 5 miles southeast of Vaca Key and one mile south southwest of red channel marker #20.”

Proper Anchoring Protects the Florida Keys

Anchoring the right way in the Florida Keys is critical to protecting the underwater marine environment.  A poor anchor job can cause tremendous damage to the reef and destroy something that took thousands of years to grow and develop and turn it into rubble.

Anchors

There are several types of anchors on the market and can be seen in the picture above.  Each anchor is designed for a specific purpose.  The anchors that are provided on your rental boats are general purpose Danforth anchors.  They are best suited for most of the anchoring requirements in the Keys for that size boat.

Anchor System

Your anchoring system consists of the anchor, shackles, a short length of chain, and then the anchor line.  The anchor is shackled to a length of chain about 4 to 6 foot in length.  The chain weight helps to get the anchor set.  This means getting the blades of the anchor to sink into the ocean bottom to hold the boat in its position on the surface.  The line is usually some combination of nylon braid usually 100 to 150 foot in length for the rental boats.

Anchoring Location

The larger the boat or the deeper the anchoring location the more anchor line is needed.  You need enough line out to get the right angle on the anchor line to allow the anchor to set.  If the line is too short, the anchor will not set and will keep releasing skipping along the bottom. Too much line can also be a problem because the line can hang up on any number of things in the ocean.  There are all sorts of theories out there as to the right ratio of depth to line length.  The illustration above shows a 7 to 10 times the depth to establish the length of the line.  Some people use as little as  3 times the depth.

The most important thing to consider is your impact on the environment.  In an environmentally sensitive area such as the Keys, the wrong angle of line can break off coral heads and damage reefs and as the operator, you can be fined for this type of damage.

NEVER ANCHOR ON A REEF!  

Always make sure you anchor into the sand and there is enough distance and angle for the anchor line to avoid impacting the reef.  The best way to do this is to select a location that is up current of where you want to fish or dive.  Place the anchor in the sand above your desired location.  Then as the current takes the boat back to the desired location, you will be right there to enjoy the diving, snorkeling or fishing.