BRICK – Thirteen Barnegat Bay yacht club commodores found common ground during a recent Zoom meeting in their concern about the amount of reckless boating they have seen this year.
Shore Acres Yacht Club Commodore Dr. Philip Angelo said he has noticed “an exponential increase in reckless boating,” and cited a recent incident where a power boat “plowed through our finish line towards the sailboats like a bowling ball heading for the pins.”
He said that when he sits on the deck of Shore Acres Yacht Club, located at the mouth of Kettle Creek, he can hear the conversation of boaters going by.
“People are not familiar with how to operate their boats, and sometimes they don’t even know where they are,” he said.
Dr. Angelo said the commodores are convinced there will be a fatality sometime this year, and recalled an August 2008 accident at the mouth of the Metedeconk River that resulted in the death of one man and injuries to the other four passengers.
The 17-foot Boston Whaler was struck by a 27-foot speedboat in the early morning hours in what was described as a hit and run accident.
Metedeconk River Yacht Club Commodore Pedro Escandon said he sees reckless boaters every year, but noted this year the season started sooner because kids were learning remotely and camps were cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“People can be rude and they don’t understand or respect the rules – I see it frequently,” Escandon said. “It’s not uncommon to see a large powerboat scream down the river at full speed, right through the middle of a [sailboat race],” he said.
“It upsets a lot of people,” Escandon said. “They have the right to be on the water, but we ask them to have the common courtesy to slow down when they’re passing sailboats.”
Many of the racing sailboats are small, ranging from 15 to 18 feet, so when a large powerboat passes they create a large wake that could endanger the sailors, he said.
“One day we’re going to have a tragedy,” Escandon said.
Mantoloking Yacht Club Commodore Joe V. Celentano said due to the pandemic, there are a record number of new boaters using the bay that are not educated on the proper and safe manner to operate a vessel.
“There is no regard for No Wake Zones, safe boating distancing or any of the set laws,” he said. “I see people taking selfies and texting while going 30, 40 and 50 miles per hour.”
Celentano said boats circumvent No Wake Zones by steering their boats westerly, skirting and ripping up the wetlands.
“I have never seen people misusing the bay as they have this past year,” he said.
Brick Police Chief James Riccio said he heard from his marine officers that there is more boat traffic this year.
The township has two police boats, and at least one is out patrolling full-time in the summer, looking for people who are driving or operating their boat recklessly. One boat can handle the amount of call volume, he said.
“They do boat-boardings and so forth, and if they see violations, obviously they’ll pull them over and give them a warning or a summons,” Riccio said.
The second police boat is used during special events, such as for SummerFest, when it is stationed off Windward Beach while the other boat patrols.
“Jet skis present a bigger problem, they’re reckless all the time, and that’s a problem because the people operating them are usually younger and probably immature,” Chief Riccio said during a recent phone interview.
The police chief said this year there have been five accidents, up from three last year. The department has also done about 40 boat boardings this year, about the same as last year.
“That’s not to say those were the only accidents because they could have also reported them directly to the State Police, because we both patrol the waters off Brick,” Chief Riccio said.
The Brick Police Department works closely with the State Police, both with training and with enforcement in the waters off Brick, Chief Riccio said.
According to State Police spokesman Sgt. Philip Curry, the Marine Unit at Point Pleasant station has observed an increase in recreational boat use this year as compared to previous years.
As of July 16, there have been 19 total accidents, up from 11 total accidents in 2019, he said, and boat boardings by the State Police for careless operation is also up for the same time period – 306, up from 242 in 2019.
A boating license is required to operate a boat in New Jersey, which can be obtained after the completion of a boating safety course.
It is unknown how many people are operating boats without a license.