February 12, 2020

PETER FREZZA/Islamorada, Village of Islands
Carlos and Eileen Galindo, operators of Islamorada Poseidon Marine Towing, install new 'Slow Speed/Minimum Wake' buoys on a narrow wheel-ditch channel off the north side of Whale Harbor on Monday.

PETER FREZZA/Islamorada, Village of Islands Carlos and Eileen Galindo, operators of Islamorada Poseidon Marine Towing, install new 'Slow Speed/Minimum Wake' buoys on a narrow wheel-ditch channel off the north side of Whale Harbor on Monday.

ISLAMORADA — Boaters speeding through a narrow wheel ditch off Whale Harbor Channel now have been warned.

“Slow Speed/Minimum Wake” buoys were installed Feb. 10, one at each end of the hazardous passage north of mile marker 84.

Fines for violating the nautical speed limit now start at $50.

“This project has been a great community collaboration for public safety,” said Peter Frezza, Islamorada’s Environmental Resources manager. “It started at the local level and was passed onto the Near Shore Water Regulation Citizens Advisory Committee, then approved by the Village Council with the support of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.”

The unofficial channel, about a third of a mile in length, was created by decades of boater use. It’s narrow width, less than 75 feet across, proved deadly in April 2018. A 33-year-old woman riding as a passenger on a Maverick skiff traveling at speed clipped an ongoing boat and plunged into mangroves.

“No one should be going through there on plane, especially if you meet another boat,” said Bob Mitchell, the late chairman of the Near Shore committee who championed speed reductions after the crash. “It’s too damn narrow.”

The “Slow Speed/ Minimum Wake” rules say “a vessel must be fully off plane and completely settled into the water” and must “avoid the creation of an excessive wake or other hazardous condition.”

kwadlow@keysnews.com