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#416491 - 09/18/11 10:16 AM WATER SAFETY SUGGESTIONS  
Joined: Oct 2001
Posts: 5,945
Diane Campbell Offline
Diane Campbell  Offline
Hi - some thoughts -

The issue of water-safety is multi-faceted. I'm going to lay out a few thoughts & ideas below - I hope we can discuss ideas without rancor and with an eye to seeing what we can do in a positive way ...... I am posting this for the business section in hopes that it can lead to action on the part of people who can do more than just talk about it.

Kraals were a good plan in years gone by. They provided safe swimming areas in the sea. Perhaps they can be reintroduced / approved for construction?

We've all done risky things when we were in new environments. It's natural.
Tourism industries the world over are tasked with guest-safety-education.
This is a process that begins anew with each planeload of sun-seekers.
Perhaps the SPBA and Tour Guides can make a small, succinct guide that specifically addresses water-safety on Ambergris Caye - have it handed over to guests at check-in. The front desk or guest relations person at each establishment can answer questions at that time. The same information piece should be in each "guest book" and should be posted on the walls of each establishment. This would be a single piece of paper, easily reproduced on a copy machine and not a huge bother to read.
Suggested items - Basic water safety -
1) swim in designated areas only
2) go out with licensed tour operators only
3) Boats can't see you - listen for them and if you hear one look around you immediately - if one is coming towards you get out of the way and/or make a ruckus so they see you
4) Waters inside the reef tend to be shallow - DO NOT DIVE off piers - you can break your neck
5) do not go out in kayaks in a north wind.

The big water taxis are a "relatively" new phenomena. We had one or two in the past - and in fact one swimmer's death was the result of an accident with one of these larger multi-passenger vessels. That first tragedy was totally avoidable - a man had just arrived on the island - he went to the nearest pier and jumped into deep water for a swim. Unfortunately it was 5pm, he jumped off the Texaco dock and the big boat from BC was just coming in to the dock. The man died on the spot. Had there been a sign would he have read it? Maybe, maybe not. Had there been staff on the dock could they have directed him to a safer place - absolutely - but it was a holiday and the gas station was closed.
My suggestion - the large, scheduled-run water taxis/BC ferries should come and go from one central place - on the back lagoon where swimmers do not venture anyway. This would allow for several things -
1) convenience for travelers
2) few if any swimmers in the area
3) screening of boat-captains for sobriety prior to departure
4) routine safety-compliance inspections - lifejackets? engines running ok? lights?
5) police presence at arrivals as has been so often suggested by people focused in crime-fighting
6) less taxi-cab congestion on front street - a more sensible and convenient place for pick-ups and drop offs.
7) the creation of a pleasant arrival park that welcomes travelers
8) generally calmer waters for safer docking, embarkation, disembarkation

Public carriers should not only be licensed for certain times, but should be mandated to follow certain courses. These courses should be farther from shore than the smaller boats that individuals and tour companies use.

Pier owners should not be forced to host pick-ups and deliveries from large (30 or 35 feet and longer?) commercial vessels, regardless of whether they are passenger or freight carriers. The larger commercial carriers should have pick-up and delivery zones that are appropriate to their work. This would make it easier for the passengers and captains alike.
It would also encourage pier-owners to make pleasant swimming & recreation areas for all of us to safely enjoy.

Lastly - we all know that accidents happen. We already have a decompression chamber. The current focus on upgrading the Polyclinic is a brilliant and urgent step in the right direction!

#416495 - 09/18/11 10:49 AM Re: WATER SAFETY SUGGESTIONS [Re: Diane Campbell]  
Joined: May 2000
Posts: 6,718
Amanda Syme Offline
Amanda Syme  Offline
Does anybody remember the initiative back around 1997 that resulted in signs on all of the piers that warned swimmers to stay near the dock and warned of boat traffic? I can't remember if it was a San Pedro town board initiative or the Tour Guide Association or BTB. We want to reinstate this immediately and it would be great if we could locate existing regulations which laid out exactly how the sign is worded and an "authority" mandating the conditions.


#416498 - 09/18/11 11:00 AM Re: WATER SAFETY SUGGESTIONS [Re: Diane Campbell]  
Joined: Apr 2000
Posts: 3,054
Lan Sluder/Belize First Offline
Lan Sluder/Belize First  Offline
Diane's comments are well thought out.

From the perspective not of a resident but of someone who has been traveling in and writing about Belize for 20+ years, I agree with most of them.

And I think most of her recommendations could be implemented without causing problems.

Due to the barrier reef, water depth and water conditions off Ambergris and Caulker, and due to the fact that there aren't designated beach areas as in much of the U.S. and the Caribbean, conditions as regards boats and swimmers/snorkelers, while not unique in the world, are quite unusual. Tourists, especially first-time visitors, can't be expected to know about this.

Hotels, tour operators, boat operators, pier owners, real estate folks and others whose livelihoods depend on tourism have a duty to warn visitors about the risks.

Not to blame the water taxi companies, but I do think that with the consolidation and simultaneous expansion of the water taxi business over the last couple of years, along with the natural conditions that exist in water travel, that there's a whole new level of risk. Some of the boats are large, 100 passengers or so, and at times are totally packed with a combination of local people and tourists. Most recently this summer I made a number of trips on water taxis to and from Belize City, San Pedro and Caulker this summer, and I was concerned about the kinds of things that go on, not just in getting from one place to another but also in getting on and off the boats. Aside from the risk to people in the water, there is a big, serious accident with many deaths just waiting to happen. In my opinion, it WILL happen one day if things don't change.

--Lan Sluder

#416504 - 09/18/11 11:25 AM Re: WATER SAFETY SUGGESTIONS [Re: Diane Campbell]  
Joined: Oct 2001
Posts: 5,945
Diane Campbell Offline
Diane Campbell  Offline
Lan you said a mouthful about the risks to passengers. I could go on and on about that one, but will save it for another day.
We have decent rules for these carriers - but enforcement is difficult at best when they are all over the place.
Here is just one example of something that happened to me -
Arrived at boat-ferry dock in SP. Scheduled departure - 7 or 8 am, I can't recall which. The engine had problems - half an hour after the designated departure time, mechanics were still trying to get the engine going. Ticket ladies and boat captain refused to answer questions from passengers - they also refused refunds on the tickets. FINALLY at 45 minutes after the scheduled departure, we left the dock. We went slowly away from the dock as we should ...... and kept doing VERY slowly because we had ONE engine only, and the boat could not get on plane. Did it turn back? NO. I knew it was dangerous and asked to be dropped off at the BYC pier. The captain refused to speak with me. The owner-manager son-in-law or whomever who I know well enough - he also turned his back and refused to speak with me. We kept going. I called the owner of the water-taxi who I know from NEMO work. He seemed concerned, but it we did not turn back. We were going MAYBE 5 mph in a fully packed boat. A lady across from me was wearing a catheter and an IV drip and was on the way to KHMH ...... there were elderly, kids, people who needed to get where they were going - and who could easily have taken the next boat (from another carrier ...... aye, there's the rub - they did not want to see us travel with another boat).
I had a cel phone and called a private water taxi who was willing to find the ferry and pick me up --- it took a while - as we approached Caye Caulker (90 minutes after departure!) the big boat stopped - fortunately my water-taxi rescue arrived at that time. Also arrived - another boat from the water-taxi company, who conducted an off-and-onloading exercise in open water, taking passengers from the dead boat to the working one.
I think that if we'd had a central docking facility with a proper monitor (Coast Guard or Harbour-master) this would not have happened --- that boat should not have left port in that condition - period, full stop.

#416510 - 09/18/11 11:58 AM Re: WATER SAFETY SUGGESTIONS [Re: Diane Campbell]  
Joined: Jun 2007
Posts: 58
ecodiver Offline
ecodiver  Offline
Just a small suggestion, If snorkelers are going from the dock or kayak why don't you make them use a dives flag.
In Florida all snorkelers and divers must have 1 dive flag per group that they tow to be seem by boat. This is even true for people who enter from the beach. The resorts/houses can give them to guests to be borrowed.

#416521 - 09/18/11 12:37 PM Re: WATER SAFETY SUGGESTIONS [Re: Diane Campbell]  
Joined: Apr 2000
Posts: 3,054
Lan Sluder/Belize First Offline
Lan Sluder/Belize First  Offline
ecodiver, I partly grew up in the Tampa Bay area of Florida and lived there for many years and don't think I ever saw a dive flag off the beaches in Clearwater, St. Pete, Sarasota, New Port Richey, Sanibel Island, Panama City, etc. even though there were a lot of people practicing their snorkeling.

Fact is, in most parts of Florida there are big beaches designated for swimming and other water sports. Boats, except jet skis, rarely go to those beaches.

Belize is different. It has no real designated swimming beaches, the beach areas, at least in Hopkins, Placencia and Ambergris Caye, tend to stretch for miles, and boat captains are used to going anywhere they damn well please.

#416522 - 09/18/11 12:46 PM Re: WATER SAFETY SUGGESTIONS [Re: Diane Campbell]  
Joined: Oct 2001
Posts: 5,945
Diane Campbell Offline
Diane Campbell  Offline
We could take the old municipal pier and revitalize it - resurface it and maybe make it a little longer if funds permit.
Put picnic tables and sun-shades on it.
Clean the water beside it of the debris that is currently left over from this being a loading dock.
Make nice broad steps from the pier into the sea.
The water there is deep enough for barges and cargo boats so it's deep enough for a nice swim. Rope it off and designate it as a swimming area. It fronts the park and is a deeper-water place already ....... could go a long way to making the center of San Pedro more fun and more beautiful?

#416531 - 09/18/11 03:14 PM Re: WATER SAFETY SUGGESTIONS [Re: Diane Campbell]  
Joined: Jun 2007
Posts: 58
ecodiver Offline
ecodiver  Offline
As i have been in south Florida for only a few months i have seen 3 different sets of people get tickets for not having a dive flag/float with them snorkeling off the beach.
I know as a former dive shop owner (Ecologic Divers) i would now have all the dive masters carry a float as you say the "boat captains are used to going anywhere they damn well please" Most do not have proper qualifications. It is the easiest place to get a commercial captains license.
It just make sense for a snorkeler group or dive group pull a dive float for safety.
I would stop and tell snorkelers that they were out too far on my way home south AC. Most times they did not pay any attention to my suggestion.
It was just a suggestion so don't belittle a suggestion maybe try to find a solution

#416547 - 09/18/11 07:26 PM Re: WATER SAFETY SUGGESTIONS [Re: Diane Campbell]  
Joined: Nov 2003
Posts: 475
TravelinMan1 Offline
TravelinMan1  Offline
My thought is that much of this discussion is going to help us accomplish something and hopefully make sure that all visitors are properly educated as to the dangers of swimming and snorkeling away from shore and the things they can do to make it safe.

In an effort to get something up and running quickly I am working with SACNW to come up with a couple of short term solutions that can be deployed very quickly (within a week or two).

1) a Small sign that can be printed on a license plate sized plate and can then be placed on all docks. Something along the lines of BEWARE OF BOAT TRAFFIC

2) prepare a list of 10 or so water safety tips that can be printed and placed in rental/hotel room information booklets and or laminated and displayed in a visible high traffic locations.

My number one goal is to make sure that visitors are at least made aware of the dangers of swimming and snorkeling too far from shore and how they can participate in those activities in a safe way.

I think that if these simple steps were taken by responsible rental management companies, private home rentals and resorts we could at least be sure that every visitor is aware of the danger and they will have an idea on how to avoid it.

There are of course many other things that can be done but these simple steps can be implemented without much expense or discussion.

I also plan on setting up a roped off swimming / snorkeling area at the end of the dock by using high visibility buoys.

#416602 - 09/19/11 03:57 PM Re: WATER SAFETY SUGGESTIONS [Re: Diane Campbell]  
Joined: Oct 2001
Posts: 5,945
Diane Campbell Offline
Diane Campbell  Offline
Kevin at BTB assured me that there will be on central terminal at the back lagoon for the large water-taxis. This is part of the Saca Chispas (sp?) project.

"Beware of boat traffic" is perfect Josh - really succinct and the right advice wherever you are.

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