(By Kim Ryan) Some people on Fort Myers Beach believe they should. This week, during the Marine Resources Task Force meeting, committee member Rob Howell proposed a new ordinance requiring prop guards on rental boats with an exposed propeller. Whether an ordinance of this type is even legal remains to be seen.
Howell presented documents to the task force including emails from a propeller guard company, information on injuries to animals, and reports from the US Coast Guard related to human deaths. He cited environmental and safety advantages, not only to humans but also to sea life, like manatees and the protection of the seagrass manatees need to survive, as reasons for his proposed ordinance.
As indicated on the map in the Fort Myers Beach Pole and Troll brochure, there’s documented seagrass damage which ranges from light to severe with the majority falling in the moderate to severe categories. The brochure states: ‘Careless boating practices can result in damage to see grass beds such as prop scarring. Damage may only take seconds to create but seagrass recovery takes years‘
MRTF committee members discussed how they’ve seen rental boats not staying in the channel. Committee Chairman Rob Howell said, “Time and time again rental boats from Sun N’ Fun and Salty Sam’s are cutting across Matanzas Pass.” Boaters not realizing how shallow Estero Bay is can cause visible mud trails cutting through the bottom, according to Johnson.
The committee also discussed local propeller accidents causing injury or death to humans, manatees and turtles, as compelling reasons to at least consider this type of ordinance.
Save The Manatee Club Executive Director Patrick Rose told Beach Talk Radio News, “Propeller guards are a good idea to protect manatees, but only if they are used along with other protection measures, such as boat speed zones, enforcement, and habitat protection. Historically, people have equated propeller guards with being able to roll back speed zone protections for manatees. They have not understood that impact trauma from the boat’s hull or propeller (or propeller guard), called “blunt force trauma,” is often more deadly than the cuts from the propellers themselves. That’s why propeller guards are no substitution for slow and idle speed zones. While propeller guards could help minimize manatee injuries and deaths, they are not a stand-alone protection measure.”
Currently there are no requirements or mandates for propeller guards in Florida. The United States Coast Guard and some states have taken up the subject in the past. GO HERE for a historical review of boating safety regulations and Coast Guard proposed propeller safety regulations
Suffolk County in New York did successfully pass a law called “Ryan’s Law” which requires the use of propeller guards on instructional vehicles after the tragic death of 12 year old Ryan Weiss. The youth was killed during a training exercise on righting a capsized sailboat.
Other options such as increasing education through things like the MRTF pop up tent event were discussed. Howell said education has proved to be ineffective..
So what about the cost to boat rental companies? Howell said through his research the cost could run anywhere from $100 per boat to $600 per boat. That could cost local businesses that rent boats thousands of dollars.
Howell said there would be a savings over time in terms of replacement or repairs to propellers. He went on to say “The initial set up is going to be an uphill battle but once implemented the benefits to not only the companies with their pocketbook but the environmental impact would be positive.”
Committee co-chair Gregory Fossum explained the expense is not only buying the prop guard but also installing it. He recalled a conversation with one of the pontoon boat owners who stated one of their highest profit centers is replacing props which are passed onto the renters.
Councilman Bill Veach, the council liason to the committee, added, “Some may look at it as this is a device to protect my prop and then say why am I using a $500 device to protect a $100 device.”
There was a question if an ordinance of this type is something a local municipality can legally institute. Committee co-chair Gregory Fossum wondered, “Does the town have the ability to pass such an ordinance?”
At the end of the meeting councilman Veach, who sent a message to the town attorney, reported the response was that the state regulates boating safety and that may constitute a pre-emption but he’s not completely sure. He questioned if applying it to a rental company may be a way in.
Boating laws and regulations in Florida are enforced by FWC. While there is no minimum age to operate a boat there are restrictions on personal watercraft and boating safety requirements that are age specific. FWC also lists among many other important things manatee and seagrass awareness on their boating regulations page HERE.
Howell said, “ We would be setting an example of how much we care, other places can see how we did it. It’s a leading example. At the end of the day it will save lives.” Veach called the idea “pioneering” and “a good thing.”
The task force agreed to review the information, collect additional information and put it on the next meeting’s agenda.