“Safety” the theme Saturday on the lower Santa Fe River

Report and comments by Mike Roth

Yesterday a portion of Zone 8 of the Lower Santa Fe River finally had a day of no-wake boating traffic, and all it took were injuries that were very likely avoidable if the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission actually policed the river.

Onlookers tending to injured jet skier In: "Safety" the theme Saturday on the lower Santa Fe River | Our Santa Fe River, Inc. | Protecting the Santa Fe River in North Florida
Onlookers tend to injured jet skier

Coincidentally occurring only hours after a meeting of Three Rivers Estates residents and some county commissioners about the growing concern of safety on the river, a jet ski riding the wake of a motorboat apparently lost control and collided head-on with a boat going the other direction, sending the boat under a nearby dock, forcing another onto shore under an enormous wake, and sinking the jet ski.  It took about thirty minutes for emergency vehicles to arrive, and yet another fifteen minutes before the first of four FWC officers arrived, each in their own boat. The jet ski rider was airlifted to UF Health Shands hospital with injuries that required emergency surgery, while a 14-year-old boy and his parents who had been riding in the crashed boat were brought to North Florida Regional Medical Center with non life-threatening injuries. according to an FWC report.

About the only surprise in this incident is that it doesn’t happen more often.  Zone 8 is the widest and deepest segment of the Santa Fe River, and it has long been the talk among riparian owners that boating speeds and maneuvers, often by boats with motors better suited for ocean travel, have spun irresponsibly out of control, with virtually no oversight.  Attempts to put no-wake zones or even limited speed zones in the past have been met with resistance from boating lobbies, and an apparent obstinate refusal by FWC to cede any of its authority over the river or take advice from citizen groups.

Tending to boat under dock In: "Safety" the theme Saturday on the lower Santa Fe River | Our Santa Fe River, Inc. | Protecting the Santa Fe River in North Florida
Tending to boat under dock.

The ninety-minute morning meeting at Hodor Park at Three Rivers Estates convened about eighty local residents and was facilitated by Suwannee County Commissioner Ronald Richardson and Columbia County Commissioner Rocky Ford.  They assured the group that the Gilchrist County Commissioners were equally concerned. The meeting included numerous anecdotes about near-misses but the grit of the meeting was to formulate an ask – a petition to request no-wake zones around the three TREPO-owned boat ramps and speed limit restrictions elsewhere on the river. My one attempt at introducing the additional malady of severe shore erosion and its effect on river flora and fauna was quickly dismissed as being of no interest to FWC.  Our Santa Fe River, Inc. will pursue that concern with the Suwannee River Water Management District and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

Damaged jet ski was recovered In: "Safety" the theme Saturday on the lower Santa Fe River | Our Santa Fe River, Inc. | Protecting the Santa Fe River in North Florida
Damaged jet ski was recovered

“This will be an eye-opener” assured FWC officer Eddie Vazquez, a Madison County officer working Suwannee County on Saturday.  He pointed out that there are no speed limits on the river, but speed could not even be used as an indication of dangerous boating since the officers do not have radar guns.  When asked why they were not so equipped, he just shrugged.

On weekends and holidays, the lower Santa Fe River is a hazard that the public can only hope some agency takes into hand.  Alcohol consumption makes the days more dangerous as they wear on. All of the agencies – county commissions, police departments, FWC and others – point to each other, while nothing gets done.  Kayakers, canoers, swimmers (often children) and others are all at risk and should certainly be afforded the same “rights” that reckless boaters claim allow them to do anything they want on the water – a position apparently supported by FWC.

20 Comments

  1. I agree with all of your statements except the one about no boat being under a dock. At first, I didn’t notice it either because I was concerned about the man that was unconscious. However, when the second FWC officer showed up, his attention was drawn by other bystanders and there was indeed a boat under the dock. I believe it’s the one that collided with the jet ski. I have photos of it. There was minor damage to the underside of the dock. They also hauled individuals away on a stretcher after the jet skier was carried away. It appears that the first photo in this article was taken from that particular dock.

  2. Here are the unfortunate facts regarding this accident. I was traveling in my boat approximately 20-25 mph from the itchetucknee towards Sandy Point. Ahead of me on my right was a stationary get ski near the bank. To the left of me was an oncoming boat approaching about 20-25 miles per hour. When I passed, the jet skier jumped my wake into the path of the oncoming boat striking the boat on the port side. The jet skier was unconscious and the boat crashed into the riprap on the bank. There was no third boat involved in the crash, no boat was under a dock and excessive speed was not a factor. I saw no evidence of alcohol involvement. We called 911 and stayed with the jet skier until medics and the water patrol arrived. Another boater rendered aid to the boaters until help arrived. This statement was given to water patrol.

    1. Not exactly. My neighbors, who have to get one of the supports for their dock repaired, wouldn’t agree. And the third boat was not involved in the crash directly, but wound up on the ramp next to the dock with a hull full of water. There may or may not have been alcohol involved in this particular incident, nor was that indicated in the description of the accident. The point here is that if you watch from any vantage point on the river on any weekend you will observe countless dangerous maneuvers and situations like this one.

  3. First should be no open alcoholic containers on any boat. FWC has plenty of money and getting every officer a radar gun should be of no problem for them. Some FWC officers have some common sense and do their job well, others I have had dealings with living on the Santa Fe river for 25 years are poor at their job except acting like somebody with indifference. I am on mile 13 at Turner landing. It is a long straight away running West/East. We have Bass boats run this section at speeds approaching 70. This is a heavily area for people of all ages floating on tubes and really surprised what has happened with this wreck on the lower end of the Santa Fe has not happened here. As some one who uses and loves this river I would not even entertain the thought to go to the lower Santa Fe, which is a shame. From the mouth of the SF to the ICK generally consists of most boaters drinking and speeding in boats just to large for a such a small width water way just to get to the ICK and continue drinking for long periods of time. Even had 2 FWC officers unloading one day their boat at the ramp at Turner landing and one such boat went by running 65 to 70 with kids and women in the water at the end of the ramp. I asked one of the officers are you not going to do something about that like go stopped him? The answer was a cocky no, he does not have to slow down at a ramp even if kids and women were there swimming. To be quite honest I exploded on what a answer and said it may not be a law but it is common sense. At the least go stop him and point out the unsafe wisdom of his speeds in such a area. With his attitude to the end of our conversation my money would say he did nothing as I do not know if he did or not. 🙁 I have called several times both FWC and Gilchrist county police on drunks on the water and in the county park here. Though there is a large metal sign stating the the county ordinances for use of the park, none are enforced or there any regular patrols through the area to ever check what is going on. Drinking being the #1 offense which the sign clearly states, “NOT ALLOWED”. From my calls have only had one Gilchrist officer show up in one of these situations. Do not expect for either agency to arrest upwards of 150 drunk college fraternity kids but just the presence of a officer sitting in the park on their arrival would keep them under control instead of throwing their cans, every where and pissing on anything and worse on taking a dump in the peoples yard located in the park that are paying large taxes to be there.

      1. I have video of multiple jet skis speeding and nearly swamping kayaks and a canoe with a woman and her small child a few weekends ago. They had no consideration for the paddlers and could easily have caused a tragedy. ALL motorized boats should be banned!!!

  4. My dock is around the bend from the confluence of the itchetucknee into the Santa Fe. Every weekend many boaters who have been partying at the confluence rev up their motors and come around a blind bend in front of my dock. It is dangerous!

  5. I am a property owner just a lot or two downriver from this accident and I have watched near misses all of Memorial weekend.
    Sante fe river is too Narrow to have super speeds going down it and the erosion on our property is even worse.
    I wish the age of people on Jet skis and boats need to be the same as car drivers as they are very dangerous if you are not properly trained on how to drive them. I have been on this river all my life and the boating etiquette is getting bad.
    I think a speed limit should be placed throughout the entire Sante-fe river

  6. 80% of the water craft in this river don’t slow down for boats that are fishing, kayakers, canoes or children on the banks swimming. No common courtesy at all.

  7. So let me see if I got this straight. A possibly drunk fourteen year old boy speeding on the Santa Fe River should heretofore cause all future responsible boaters on this stretch of river to adhere to a government intervention of their right to safe boating to help kayakers and waterfront homeowners have a more peaceful existence therewith and FWC should be and should have immediately been dispatched pronto to make this happen. Who says it does not snow in Florida!

    1. The fourteen year old was with his parents in the boat. No where in the article did it say anyone was drunk. And yes, FWC should patrol the river to ensure everyone’s safety.

    2. Problem is most of you are not responsible in the way you handle your boats. I live off the Santa Fe I’m down there every weekend I haven’t had a boat in 10 years but there was a lot more courtesy back then.

  8. This is Kyle Graham, I am on that river 50 weeks a year with a fast boat and big horse power for the last 20 years and have never had a mishap or accident. This weekend I witnessed 2 jet skiers doing figure eights down the river with four boats behind them, one jet skier did a complete one eighty at 40mph never looking behind him to see what damage he could cause so boaters should not be at blame. The problem is not the boats it is with the jet skiers. Lack of experience and younger drivers and putting us all at risk!

  9. We need speed limits and no wake zones at the boat ramps and parks. I’m for a 25 mph speed limit. To many boats with inexperienced boaters and alcohol.

    1. Slower speeds (plowing as boaters call it) mean more wake and that causes more erosion of the flora and fauna mentioned in the article. Same as Kyle mentioned I too witnessed Jet skiers not paying attention to their surroundings. In addition the operators of the jet ski vessels tend to be young and inexperienced. Being educated on the appropriate behavior while operating any vehicle on the water is needed. After all you have to have a drivers license to legally operate a vehicle on the road right? I’m all for free state but perhaps boater education cards need to be a requirement for those under 18 or 21 to operate a vessel on the water. Plus a way to raise money to help preserve our rivers.

      1. That’s exactly right. We have an 18 ft BassTracker and at top speed it does 40 mph, but at 25mph it’s bow sticks straight up and you can’t see directly in front of you (while seated driving), we have to go at least 35mph to plane-out.

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