Local Resident Tom Dawson's - Letter to the Editor of the Breeze
On March 18, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission announced the state has “passed the mark of one million registered recreational vessels across the state” and here in Lee County, at the end of 2021, there were 50,304 registered recreational vessels.
This increase in boats and boaters along with the increase in new residents on the Gulf-access canals in Cape Coral is creating a lot of tension over what the speed limit is for boats on those canals. As any boater knows the canals are filled with signs that say “Idle Speed No Wake.” If there are these signs, it must be true?
Even our city council believed it should be true, so back in 2020 they added an ordinance to Chapter 10 of the Land, Waterway Use Restrictions. In Section 10-10 (b) it says: “The following areas are hereby designated as idle speed zones: (1) Any area which has been duly designated as a manatee sanctuary area or posted as an idle speed zone.”
Unfortunately, our city council members and the city attorney at the time either misunderstood or never bothered to read the applicable State of Florida codes governing Manatee Protection Zones. In Florida Administrative Code 68C-22.005 (d) 5. It clearly states; “Slow Speed (All Year) …. including the residential canals of Cape Coral.”
Further reading of the Florida codes says that a municipality can petition the state for a different speed limit under certain conditions in Manatee Protect Zones. The conditions don’t include blanket speed limits for the entire Gulf access canal system. However, the state would approve a request for an idle speed zone within 300 feet of either a boat launch area or fuel dock.
In the spring of 2020, the city of Cape Coral, under pressure from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, put a notice in the city’s quarterly newsletter “On The Move” titled “Outdated Signage in Local Waterways to Be Removed.” You can read the notice yourself; it can be found on the city’s website on the Community Newsletter page. Some key passages include:
“State law prohibits the placement of any signage in the waters of the state without a state permit.” Meaning all signs, private and city posted, that say, “Idle Speed No Wake” must come down. The city also admitted that, “The City’s tidal waterways are manatee speed zones and are marked appropriately with “Slow Speed/Minimum Wake” signage at the entrance to our canals from the river.” The Gulf access canals are “tidal waterways” and as anyone who lives on them knows manatees forage for food in those canals.
There is a legal definition for “Slow Speed/Minimum Wake” — unfortunately many boaters and canal residents are not familiar with it. The state in F.A.C. Rule 68C-22.002 (4) defines it as follows:
“Slow speed requires that a vessel be fully off plane and completely settled into the water. The vessel must then proceed at a speed which is reasonable and prudent under the prevailing circumstances so as to avoid the creation of an excessive wake or other hazardous condition which endangers or is likely to endanger other vessels or other persons using the waterway. Due to the different speeds at which vessels of different sizes and configurations may travel while in compliance, there is no specific numeric speed assigned to Slow Speed.”
The city has a Waterway Advisory Board and in my remarks to the board last September, I advised that information and education were keys to addressing many of our boating related problems. The State of Florida only mandates basic boater education classes for those people born on or after Jan. 1, 1988. We know the bulk of our new residents don’t meet the requirement so they get a boat and hit the waters without learning the rules.
A city employee told the Waterway Advisor Board it can do nothing to remove the illegal speed limit signs in the canals that private residents have on their property. Beyond the article mentioned previously, the city has not taken any substantive measures to inform canal residents and boaters the current rules and regulations. Even the current “Canal Owner’s Manual” which was written in 2009 doesn’t address any boating rules and regulations.
The following are some of the recommendations made to the city’s Waterway Advisory Board
- Repeal city ordinance 10-10 (b) and harmonize the city regulation with one that mirrors F.A.C. 68C-22.005 (d) 5. “Slow Speed (All Year) — including the residential canals of Cape Coral.”
- Add the state’s definition of Slow Speed Minimum Wake to city ordinance 10-10.
- Notify all canal homeowners and boaters what the legal speed limit is and post this information online.
- Notify all canal homeowners the need to take down all of the illegal “Idle Speed No Wake”signs on their property.
- Obtain a permission from the state to establish “Idle Speed No Wake Zones”at boat ramps and gas docks.
Finally, for all boaters new and old in Cape Coral learn all the boating rules and regulations by taking an approved Boating Safety Course and earning your State of Florida Boating Safety Education ID Card. This course covers all of the Federal, and State regulations along with boating basics that Florida boaters need to know. A listing of approved course providers is available at myfwc.com.