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Photos by Steve Stefanides
With over 100 miles of canals and waterways, as well as the Gulf of Mexico which surrounds Marco Island, our home is a mecca for local boating and those transiting to other exotic tropical locations for pleasure and enjoyment on the water.
Today’s technology allows mariners to make those journeys in relative safety. The wonderful “roadways on the water” are relatively well marked on charts that are both printed and on electronic devices installed upon the exquisite crafts we see gracing the waters around us.
It is sad to read of incidents such as the one that occurred over a week ago when a boat transiting to a location south of us ran aground. The captain of that vessel was coming into Marco for a stopover just before sunrise. The vessel, unfortunately, ran aground in the channel coming into the Marco River from the Gulf of Mexico. The captain was following his charts and GPS accurately, and was within the channel that was marked as being adequate in depth.
The vessel that ran aground and partially sank was an 85-foot Azimut Motor Yacht. The incident resulted in major damage to the vessel, and two days later, it had to be towed off for salvage. Shifting sand within the channel appears to be the cause of the unfortunate grounding of the vessel and the possible damage to its hull.
Over the last several years, local mariners and other yacht captains have been reporting to authorities the changes in the critical waterway leading into the island and the need for dredging. Since this most recent incident, the Coast Guard, which is responsible for the navigation aids in that area, has placed two additional green can buoys to mark the changing channel.
Local boating organizations on the island also have been appealing to governmental bodies to repair a number of the aids to navigation in and around Marco Island, but with limited success. The Marco Island Sail and Power Squadron, which now goes under the name of America’s Boating Club Marco Island, has been working diligently with all agencies in charge of these navigation aides to make the necessary repairs and adjustments to both their condition and, and in some cases, their locations.
The ownership of these markers is split among the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG), Collier County and the City of Marco Island. There also are a few “private markers.” When Marco Island incorporated as a city, an interlocal agreement was created with the county to transfer those markers within the city’s boundaries over to city responsibility. A number of channels such as Caxambas Pass, Big Marco River, Caxambas Bay, Horr’s Island Channel and Capri Pass were left under jurisdiction of the county.
Thirteen of the markers which lie under the city’s jurisdiction are either off station by greater than 150 feet, missing or in need of repair, and a light indicating the entrance to Collier Creek is also missing. As for the markers within the jurisdictions of both the county and the Coast Guard, there are a number also in need of attention.
The Aids to Navigation (ATONS) Project is part of the USPS (US Power Squadron) Cooperative Charting Program, a major collective public service of United States Power Squadrons. Within this program, members inspect Aids to Navigation to identify and report damaged or misplaced aids to the Coast Guard and local agencies, and also supply information to USCG and NOAA, leading to corrections to nautical charts and Coast Pilot publications.
The Marco Island Squadron regularly reports all of its information to the City of Marco Island and the Collier County Coastal Zone Management Staff, as well as the Coast Guard, to alert them to the deficiencies found during their inspections.
This same information is available to the general public by going to the Marco Squadron’s website at www.marcoboatingclub.org, clicking on the drop-down menu for “Aids to Navigation,” and following the instructions at their website.
“We feel by doing this we are providing a much safer environment for our local and visiting boaters, and allowing the governmental bodies to have a quicker response to these vital repairs that are needed to make boating safer,” said Lt. Cliff Winings, a Senior Navigator with the Marco Power Squadron.
“Accurate information concerning these aids to navigation will certainly assist in avoiding unfortunate incidents which could cause costly damage to a vessel or severe injuries to those onboard a craft,” said Douglas Howard, a Coast Guard-licensed captain on a local 100-foot motor yacht.
Over the past year, the nation has seen a significant positive economic impact due to a surging interest in boating, especially in the cruising aspect of travel and the flow of dollars into local economies by visiting mariners. Providing a convenient and safe venue is therefore extremely important to those cruising today, for both the traveler and those businesses in their chosen ports of call.
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