Posted By: Diane Campbell


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!
Posted By: Amanda Syme


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.

Posted By: Lan Sluder/Belize First


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
Posted By: Diane Campbell


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.
Posted By: ecodiver


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.
Posted By: Lan Sluder/Belize First


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.
Posted By: Diane Campbell


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?
Posted By: ecodiver


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
Posted By: TravelinMan1


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.
Posted By: Diane Campbell


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.

Posted By: Portofino


In order to give a more complete picture in this discussion I am posting an open email (sent to most resorts and stakeholders on Ambergris Caye) I received today from Wolfgang Wind:

Originally Posted by Wolfgang Wind
I am writing in regards to the tragic accident from Friday, 16. September 2011, caused by San Pedro-Belize Express Water Taxi.

Please let me introduce the victims:
Dana Shiflett and John "Rob" Leonard, from Virginia, both barely 30 years of age, just have had their wedding about a week ago. Their honeymoon brought them to San Pedro; their first trip outside of the US, taking advantage of discounted summer pricing. They enjoyed snorkeling, kayaking, had a day trip to Lamanai, an All Day Beach BBQ and a visit to Hol Chan.

On their last afternoon of their vacation they took their fins and snorkels and went to the dock of Caribe Island to snorkel one more time, the last time.
It was a calm and beautiful day, hardly any waves and wind, a little mosquitoish. I was on the beach talking to my groundskeeper Eldon when we heard an unusually loud bang. We turned around and saw a large water taxi passing extremely close to Caribe Island's dock, full speed.
A loud woman's voice following immediately, hysterically; crying and shouting for help.

Eldon said immediately: "Our Guests !". Everyone in the vicinity got out of their homes and to the beach and on to the docks; everybody knew immediately that something terrible had just happened. Two other boats stopped and turned while the water taxi still continued full speed until the captain was finally alerted that something had gone terribly wrong.

There was a big spot of blood in the ocean just outside of Caribe Island, people were concerned about sharks and hesitant to jump into the water to assist. Luckily it took less than a minute until the young couple was rescued by boat and brought to San Pedro and the Polyclinic. Suya Tours and other continued to circle the crime scene; after the blood disappeared a foot was found, the fin still attached.

Dana was hit by the hull of the boat. Her shoulder and arm severely cracked and crushed; even fingers broken. Rob had his leg cut off, near the hip. Only the foot was found with a short short stump; the foot was put on ice. Apparently the middle part of the leg was shredded by the boat's strong propellers.

After my visit to the hospital I returned and talked everything over with my neighbors. We could nail down the point of accident to 75 feet outside of the dock at Caribe Island; just 75 feet outside !!!
I myself and many others have previously been snorkeling in that spot; just 75 feet off the dock of Caribe Island.
75 feet: that's about the distance from the town council building to the Post Office.

While most private boats and tour operators choose to drive through our area using the middle between the reef and the island (where they should be), the big water taxis have often come very close to the beach, numerous times, over and over.

If water taxis have a stop in Caye Caulker they are usually less of a danger. However, the Express Water Taxis going straight from Belize City to San Pedro take a route far inside of Caye Caulker and further must curve around the South part of the island to reach San Pedro. The area around Caribe Island (2 to 3 miles South) sticks out the most and swimmers are at high risk.

Most Express taxis choose a route already dangerously close to the beach; usually just 300 feet off the beach (and remember: there is plenty of room; 5000 feet to the reef according to GPS, more than 3/4 of a mile between beach and reef). In the past we have noticed kayaks paddling along the beach's waters being capsized by water taxi's big waves.

This was the first time that we noticed a water taxi so extremely close, just 75 feet off the dock. The shorter the route, the faster the time. The result was extremely tragic.

I did find Rob's insurance card from the US and sincerely hope that all his medical expenses will be covered in full. Personally I believe this would be a clear cut case of financial liability to the water taxi operator and the captain. Too many witnesses and no excuses.

Meanwhile we have talked to Dana a few times by phone. She told us that Rob is in stable conditions and has a good chance to survive. We have packed their luggage and sent it over to Belize City, to the hospital. Among their belongings we found three disposable underwater cameras with pictures from their snorkeling, several Belize souvenirs, hand carvings and T-Shirts with San Pedro print, even a Belize candle. All souvenirs of their honeymoon.
We even found the return tickets for San Pedro-Belize Express.
How ironical: they would have returned with the same company and possibly the same driver who forever altered their lives with his recklessness.

We are not sure when Rob will be able to be transported back to the US but we all hope that he will recover soon and in a best possible way. On his return he will have his underwater cameras with pictures, their San Pedro souvenirs in his luggage. As well he will be traveling back with a cooler containing his foot on ice with no hope to ever been attached.

I am kindly asking for urgent oversight and reporting of fast vessels close to the beach. I am also urging town council to take all necessary steps that such tragedy will not happen again, Ever !
Certainly policing amongst boat drivers will also be necessary; tour operators will have to monitor water taxis. Some new rules will be necessary.

Boats will have to respect a much larger save zone for tourists snorkeling, swimming and kayaking. Tourists are the lifeline of the island.
There is plenty of room in our area; nearly a mile between the beach and the reef. Boats have to use the middle area; the one third in the middle.
There is plenty of room for both, swimmers and boats.

Thank you for your kind attention and many thanks to all persons kindly assisting, especially to Josh Buettner.

Wolfgang Wind

Jan van Noord
Posted By: Portofino


There are many facets to safety on and in the water.

At Portofino we have a problem of boats passing our dock often less than 20 feet out and at full speed. Now before I blame their drivers, I can understand why they do this. When you come from the North, they aim for our dock in order to avoid about 3 coral heads that are located North of our resort and south of Mexico Rocks. There is an alternative route, when you pass the Mexico Rocks markers, stay out and come in again at Portofino, but not everybody knows this - some captains from Coastal Express use this route, but some resorts North of us don't.

We warn our guests of this danger and advise them not to snorkel or swim beyond our pier - we have created a snorkelling area on the North side of our dock, or we ask them to take one of the complementary kayaks out to Mexico Rocks. This is part of our introduction/welcome speech of which they get a printed personal copy. Also when guests use the complementary snorkel equipment, they sign the material out, including a waiver with this and other warnings - other warnings include: don't go near or outside the reef, don't do past the Mexico Rocks buoys, don't step or touch the coral, practice getting in and out of the kayak in the channel next to our dock etc.

Some people still don't follow these rules, and our bartender (our bar is half inside and half outside with a perfect view on Mexico Rocks) is equipped with a pair of binoculars and checks on guests who are out. Our Managers at the front desk have less view, but they are also alert, as is the dive master who is located in the dive shop at our dock and at least monthly our staff has to get someone out of the danger zone. People are then usually upset, as they don't understand the danger, and that has resulted in some bad TripAdisor reviews for us.

When people want to snorkel at different areas we advise them to take a kayak and snorkel close to it, so boats are aware of their location. I like Ecodiver's suggestion and mount little dive flags on our kayaks, although I am afraid they will break easily. As to the boat traffic and lanes, we have seen the markers that the AC Chamber of commerce put out about 8 years ago, and they were not visible at night, causing multiple collisions and leaving hazardous remains under the water surface for boats.

I think the safety of the snorkellers is a responsibility for both the resorts and the boat captains. I drive our boats regularly and am scared to death for snorkellers out at sea - I often see some near the Mata Grande Cut and on the way to Journeys End (coming from the North). When driving, I even avoid floating coconuts and other debris. Driving boats around the island is totally different that driving to and from Belize City or driving a boat outside the reef. Perhaps there should be a different category on the captain's licences for driving inside the reef here.

In conclusion:
Training of hotel staff and informing and warning arriving guests - also for private houses for rent (BTB).
Training of boat captains for the specific conditions we have here on Ambergris Caye - but also on Caye Caulker and similar cayes (Belize Port Authority or/and SPTB).

That is all I can think of right now, and my thoughts go out to the victims of the tragic accident that happened. I hope some solutions will come out of this discussion to prevent accidents like this happening in the future.

Jan van Noord
Posted By: Mike Campbell


First incident of this sort I remember happened to so friends that were on honeymoon around 1989 and they got run over near the dock swimming at Ramons. They were med-evaced out and recovered although they were seriously wounded. It was established that there should be no wake zones near the piers
and captains were instructed to approach slowly . Fact is a swimmer is almost invisible from a boat on plane. I have always carefully instructed my guests. Boat captains find it very difficult to see swimmers regardless of degree of vigilance. I tell my guests that swimming in that area off the ends of the docks is like playing on the freeway. You will be hit. I have hit logs and sticks that I never saw until the very last second. The hotelier needs to very strongly explain this playing in the freeway concept to all their guests and provide designated swimming areas. I tell them to always take a kayak. Captains see the empty kayak and know there is a swimmer nearby. Just swimming around out there is Russian roulette.
Posted By: Katie Valk


Remember the woman from either Peace Corp of USAID who was paralyzed after being struck by a boat while swimming in the boat lane, in the mid to earlier 80's? Kathy?
Posted By: Mike Campbell


Yes that was after the honeymoon couple that were visiting us got chopped up so badly probably '89. It is very dangerous to swim around boats.
Posted By: Barbara K


So get this.....I joined a local gym about 2 weeks ago and have been trying out various classes, etc. The one I wanted to try today was cancelled so I randomly went to another class. It was fine...blah blah...but after it, I was about to leave when I hear a group of woman taking to the instructor and I catch bits of the conversation "prosthetic" "water taxi" "Belize." I get this sinking feeling and ask if they are talking about the recent accident of the honeymoon couple in Belize. Of course they are, and the guy Rob is the instructor's son! They live in the next town over from me (I moved to Virginia 8 months ago)!!! So of course I tell them who I am and what I do & stay around to talk to them for a while. I am even wearing a Tranquility Bay Belize T-shirt, and weirdest (creepiest) of all...the pic on my business card is the pier at Caribe Island! What are the chances?!! Anyway, Rob is doing well, in the local hospital here, will start rehab and is getting fitted for a prosthetic leg. His wife is very freaked out though, and not coping well. Turns out as they saw the boat coming toward them and realized it was going to hit them, Rob pushed his wife out of the way so she only got the tail end of the boat which gashed her hand and broke her arm. Rob got the brunt of it. But he feels extremely lucky to be alive, and they actually loved Belize and have mostly good memories of their honeymoon. Unbelievable. They said the people of Belize and the nurses, doctors were all extremely competent, nice and treated them "like royalty." They are so grateful for the boat behind the one that hit them stopping to help, and for the priest who was on board who suggested the tourniquet, which probably saved Rob's life.
If anyone has thoughts or comments (gifts, donations, etc) they wish relayed to the couple, I will be happy to print them out and give to them. They were extremely thankful to a woman "Julian" (?) who accompanied them to the hospital and stayed with them, helped facilitate the paperwork, paid for lots of things including a cell phone so their family could get in touch with them. (The mother didn't know her full name or who she really was but said she would let me know).
How's that for random coincidence??!!!
Posted By: Lan Sluder/Belize First


That is an amazing small world story, Barb!
Posted By: Ernie B


There are still good people in this world.
Posted By: CarlosCabanas



Love the choice of T-Shirt!! lol What an amazing coincidence! Sounds like this guy has a lot of character! My heart really goes out to this couple. If they ever were ready to come back I would be willing to offer them free lodging. Ironic, but diving is an excellent activity for the physically handicapped. Please only offer this if you think it is appropriate. I wouldn't want to offend.


This accident made me think about our boat ride to town and specifically Portofino. I will be having a meeting with all of our captains and changing our route. I myself am guilty of coming too close to your dock. I would however like to take the opportunity to ask you to leave at least one light on at the end of your dock throughout the night. A while back I almost hit the dock doing a 2:00 am emergency run. I would expect I would continue to run that route when it is pitch black.

Posted By: Diane Campbell


Will be sending a message to the couple via you Barb and will encourage others to do so as well.
Amazing coincidence and hopefully a blessing in the midst of such suffering.
Posted By: Barbara K


Thanks all, I see the mother on Mondays and will print out any messages and deliver.
Do you think I should I post this on the main board?
Posted By: Amanda Syme


Hi Barb, I have some letters that I will be mailing directly.

If you have people that want to send good wishes I think you should ask them to send them to you on email or PM.

SACNW will be keeping the family apprised of developments in the water safety area when the rules come into force.

The tour guide association members have been reestablishing the adherence to the current no wake zone rules and are exercising additional caution when they come close to shore to dock or leave port - however in the traditional shipping lanes traffic stays busy.

SACNW has written a water safety guide that will be distributed tomorrow or saturday with the hope that it will caution visitors to the dangers of boating traffic. Our patrol officers and members are taking more time to educate visitors that choose to swim and snorkel from the piers in our area.

Posted By: Diane Campbell


OK - so here is an example of "no fixing stupid" ---- in an electrical storm two young people began to paddle a kayak out to the reef - they passed our house en route. Perhaps Darwin awards will be distributed later today.
Posted By: Amanda Syme


A young man died recently on the mainland, he and his family were struck by lightning - luckily the mom and sisters survived the hit.

Maybe the kayakers think that lighting in the Caribbean is less deadly than wherever they came from.
Posted By: Diane Campbell


You can't fix stupid - and if you combine it with arrogant you have a potentially deadly combo. Probably the kids are not familiar with reality here - but the people who host them and care for them should be.
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