Regatta focuses attention on safe boating

HOMESTEAD, Fla.— On Oct. 9 each year, a fleet of Miami pleasure boaters flock to the waters of Biscayne National Park to partake in the festivities commemorating the discovery of Florida.

Columbus Day Weekend has traditionally attracted people of all ages to set sail and party on the waters surrounding Elliott Key, one of a strand of islands that are part of South Florida’s Biscayne National Park.

The tradition began more than 50 years ago, when a group of 24 boats participated in a sailing completion in order to raise money for a Christopher Columbus statue that was being constructed at Bayfront Park.

Thousands of boaters join on the waters of Biscayne National Park to celebrate Columbus Day during the popular Columbus Day Regatta (Photo courtesy of the National Park Service).

On Oct. 9, 1954, the now famous Columbus Day Regatta was born.

Today’s regatta is more about partying than sailboat racing and the event has become an excuse for men and women to let go of their inhibitions and have a good time.

“I’ve been going to the regatta since I was a boy,” said 24-year-old Jorge Freyre, “I look forward to it every year and wouldn’t miss it for the world.”

Most everyone begins the festivities on Friday afternoon and don’t return to the bright lights of Miami until Monday evening.

“The best thing to do is to just camp out there.  If you don’t, it can be horrible trying to untie and get out of the sea of boats,” said Freyre.

Because of the alcohol consumption that occurs at these kinds of events, there the park does not enforce a curfew and, in fact, the park actually encourages boaters to stay moored.

“While no official curfew will be in place for the weekend, remember that all fatalities and the majority of the boating accidents have occurred over recent Columbus Day Weekends have occurred after sunset. Stay on your boat and remain in the anchorage after sunset,” said the Biscayne National Park website.

Safety is crucial at these kinds of events, since a good time can take a turn for the worse very quickly if people are careless.

“I always make sure that I have more than enough life jackets and a first-aid kit on board,” said Edward Portas, a 23-year-old boater who attends the regatta each year.

If alcohol is going to be consumed on board, it is essential to have a designated driver and to only have open containers if the boat is anchored.

There are always people swimming in the water so it is also important to have a dive flag in the water around the vessel so that other boaters can take precaution. Also, when swimming in the water, it is imperative to know the name of the boat upon which you rode, in order to avoid getting lost.

“Know the name of your boat and know the full name of your captain. Knowing that you were on a white boat with a blue top is useless in a sea of 1,500 boats,” officials advise on the park website.

In order to protect the park, boaters are encouraged to pick up any trash on their vessel and any garbage that may be in the surrounding water. Also, there is designated vessel parking in order to ensure that fragile park property is not damaged or disturbed.

“All boats must anchor within the marked anchorage area off the northern end of Elliott Key, with a maximum of five boats may be rafted together, and a minimum distance of 100 feet must be maintained between rafts of vessels,” according to the website.

In case of an emergency, it is smart to have a radio and a distress kit, such as a fog horn or firecracker, since most cell phones don’t have reception out in the ocean.

Boca Chita is a great place to dock the boat and the island has space to set up a campsite for the night (Photo courtesy of the National Park Service).

“I always have some other form of communication just in case, because the phones never work out here,” said Portas.

When crowds of this size take to the water, the U.S. Coast Guard is on special alert and constantly patrols the area to ensure that no one is out of control or behaving recklessly.

“We’re always extra cautious in situations where lots of people, sun and alcohol are combined. Someone always takes it to the next level and we’re there to make sure that no one gets hurt,” said Christopher Bostwick, spokesperson for the U.S. Coast Guard marine patrol.

The Columbus Day Regatta is a great holiday to spend time on the pristine waters of Biscayne National Park and Bostwick advised that one must remember to always be safe and smart when partying out in the ocean.


If You Go

  • Remember to have a designated driver; don’t ever drink and drive.
  • Have a life jacket for every person on board.
  • Don’t swim away from the boat and, if you do, remember the name of the boat and the captain.
  • Have a first-aid and emergency distress kit on the vessel.
  • Always operate the boat at a safe speed and be cautious of people in the water.
  • Don’t litter in the water.
  • Have plenty of water on the boat because dehydration can be a threat.
  • Have some alternate mode of communication, such as a radio, since cellular phone signals are unreliable at sea.
  • For more information on this year’s Columbus Day Regatta festivities and safety regulations, visit Biscayne National Park’s official website at

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