The waters of the Emerald Coast provide a wonderful place to fish, dive, cruise, or just anchor a boat or personal watercraft. Along with an ever-growing number of vessels on local waterways unfortunately comes an increase in water-related accidents or incidents. These can range from a simple wake zone violation to sinking vessels. In an effort to keep up with skyrocketing vessel traffic, the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office established a presence on the local waters around 1994.
There are three Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office vessels being utilized on area waters. The first is a 2008 26’ Silver Ships Ambar soft sided patrol vessel. Purchased with state homeland security grant money, this boat is used for daily operations of the Marine Unit. This specialized vessel can also be called away on missions anywhere in the state for the Regional Domestic Security Task Force and any number of potentially high risk incidents. Another vessel is a 2000 24’ Cape Horn Center Console. This has been in the agency fleet since 2000 and continues to be a reliable vessel in all weather and sea conditions. Also available for use is a 2009 22’ Pathfinder center console. This vessel is mainly used for patrolling shallow areas where the larger vessels would not be able to operate. This is extremely useful in the ever popular “Crab Island” and Destin Harbor areas where large numbers of boats and swimmers are densely packed together in shallow waters.
The need for waterborne enforcement has never been greater for the Destin area, which for many, has become “THE” boating location due to its many choices for vacationers and locals. With dozens of attractions within a mile of Destin, the boating traffic at the mouth of the harbor often becomes extremely congested. Alongside experienced vessel operators, there are numerous rental vessel operators. Many of the rental vessel operators have little experience on the water, much less the moving waters of the Destin Pass. The Sheriff’s Office Marine officers have had to pull many an unsuspecting tourist from a capsized vessel as he or she floated steadily toward the Gulf of Mexico.
Not only has there been a growth in the number of boaters, but also in the amount of people enjoying the beaches by swimming, snorkeling, paddle boarding, kayaking and other water related activities. The Marine Unit has been instrumental in locating drowning swimmers, overdue kayakers ,and removing snorkelers from highly congested boating areas.
The Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office Marine Unit has been making a difference in water safety and will continue to do so in the following years. The Marine Unit is expected to grow under Sheriff Larry Ashley and remains dedicated to keeping people safe, in and on local waters.
Beach Patrol also began in 1997 and has proven to be very effective by maintaining safety on our beaches. The deputies perform a number of valuable services for Okaloosa County residents and visitors alike, including educating beach-goers; those who enjoy swimming, surfing, fishing, sunbathing, or just walking along the finest beaches in the world.
In October of the year 2000, in partnership with the city of Destin, the Sheriff’s Office provided two additional full-time deputies for Beach Patrol. This was made possible by a grant from the federal government at no cost to taxpayers. The new deputies will work a variety of projects involving beach activities by coordinating directly with local resorts and motels in an effort to create an even safer beach environment for vacationers and locals.Included below is useful information for beach-goers visiting Okaloosa County beaches.
Seven Dont’s of Okaloosa County Beaches:
- NO LITTER on the beach. Everyone should know this one, but we find stacks of abandoned trash, cans, cigarette butts, and bottles every day. We want to keep our beaches beautiful for everyone to enjoy. Which brings us to…
- NO GLASS on the beach. It’s okay to bring your favorite drink, alcoholic or otherwise, but not in a glass container. If you have beer or other alcohol, you must be at least 21 years old….and bring your ID to prove it.
- NO ANIMALS on the beach. Animals are not allowed on the beaches for health and safety reasons.
- NO FIRES on the beach. We do not allow fires on the beach because we want to keep the sand white and also for health and safety reasons.
- NO VEHICLES on the beach. Beach cleaning machines, approved beach services, and emergency vehicles are the only exceptions.
- HEED WARNING FLAGS on the beach. Most often, a yellow flag is flying. This means enter the water with caution. The red flag means that conditions are dangerous; please do not venture into the surf. Only on the calmest days will you see the blue flag (still swim with caution).
- NO BOATING near the beach. An Okaloosa County Ordinance requires motorboats (including jet skis, wave runners, etc.) to stay at least 700 feet from the Gulf shoreline.
Have a great time at the beach. Visit with the beach and marine patrol deputies when you see them… and call 9-1-1 to report emergencies, or (850) 651-7400 to report non-urgent incidents.