Social distancing not practiced by some local boaters

Boaters gathering in large numbers last weekend offshore of Jewfish Key, near Bradenton Beach and Longboat Key. -Joe Hendricks | Sun

JEWFISH KEY – Many members of the local boating community refused to let coronavirus (COVID-19) concerns interfere with their weekend fun.

Social distancing not practiced by local boaters
The waters near Jewfish Key were thick with boaters Sunday afternoon. – Joe Hendricks | Sun

At least a hundred boats dropped anchor today near a popular weekend boating destination, the sandbar west of Jewfish Key in the Intracoastal Waterway, east of the northern tip of Longboat Key and south of the Coquina boat ramps in Bradenton Beach.

Some boaters came near the Jewfish Key shoreline and some stood in the water in large groups. At least one boat flew a Confederate flag. Many others flew American flags and quite a few flew Donald Trump flags.

Social distancing not practiced by local boaters
Some boaters near Jewfish Key proudly displayed their presidential preferences. – Joe Hendricks | Sun

Several other boats came ashore at nearby Beer Can Island (Greer Island), actually a peninsula on both sides of the Longboat Pass Bridge.

Social distancing not practiced by local boaters
Beer Can Island (Greer Island) was also a popular gathering spot for boaters this afternoon. – Joe Hendricks | Sun

Near the bridge, five young adults shared space on a small boat while fishing and suntanning with no apparent concerns about social distancing.

Social distancing not practiced by local boaters
It’s hard to practice social distancing on a small boat. – Joe Hendricks | Sun

That was the same story on another nearby boat containing four young adults in swimwear.

Social distancing not practiced by local boaters
These young adults didn’t seem too concerned about social distancing. – Joe Hendricks | Sun

Near the North Coquina boat ramp, a larger, more colorful motorboat approached with at least six older adults gathered in close proximity to each other.

Social distancing not practiced by local boaters
These older adults stood in close proximity to one another while enjoying a boat ride. – Joe Hendricks | Sun

According to social media posts and photographs shared by several Anna Maria Island residents, similar-sized boating crowds assembled at Jewfish Key and Beer Can Island on Saturday too.

According to Anna Maria Mayor Dan Murphy, large groups of boaters also assembled at Passage Key and Egmont Key during the weekend.

“In my 35-plus years, I have never seen so many boats around both Passage and Egmont keys. It was wall-to-wall,” Murphy said today.

The impromptu boat armadas occurred during the first weekend that the public beaches were closed in Manatee County, Sarasota County and several other neighboring counties and cities. The beaches were closed as a preventive measure to help slow the spread of the coronavirus.

During a Friday, March 20 press conference at the county administration building in Bradenton, Manatee County Public Safety Director Jake Saur was asked about the status of the boat ramps. Saur said the county had no plans to close the public boat ramps and did not feel there was any need to.

The parking lots at the Coquina North and Coquina South boat ramps were both full this afternoon, but they were quiet and orderly while the boaters enjoyed their time on the water.

Social distancing not practiced by local boaters
The Coquina North boat ramp was full this afternoon. – Joe Hendricks | Sun

Manatee Beach Patrol personnel were stationed at the boat ramp parking lot entrances and they turned away those who wished to park there for non-boating or non-personal watercraft-related activities.

The Coquina boat ramps are located across Gulf Drive from Coquina Beach, where the beach parking lots are closed until further notice. At least half of the 10 or so vehicles parked illegally along the Gulf Drive South right of way near the Longboat Pass Bridge this afternoon received $50 parking tickets from the Bradenton Beach Police Department.

Social distancing not practiced by local boaters
Some who parked illegally along Gulf Drive South received $50 parking tickets –
Joe Hendricks | Sun

When asked how things were at the Kingfish boat ramp in Holmes Beach, Police Chief Bill Tokajer said, “All Good. Busy.”