It’s summertime, and in Florida that means plenty of outdoor activities, including boat outings, beach trips and pool parties. But with the fun comes a necessity for safety.
Central Florida has its share of lakes, and the Windermere area offers an abundance of open waters.
Windermere’s Lake Down made headlines earlier this month when 17-year-old Jeffery Barksdale and a cousin, 20-year-old C.J. Walker, fell off a jet ski around 8:30 p.m. June 10. Walker, a basketball player at the University of Central Florida, was rescued and taken to a nearby hospital. Divers with the Orange County Sheriff’s Office Marine Unit found Barksdale’s body the following afternoon.
“It is a tragedy that, unfortunately, could have been avoided,” Windermere Town Manager Robert Smith said. “Our thoughts and prayers go out to the family.”
Lake Down is one of 13 lakes in the Butler Chain of Lakes. Five are located in the town of Windermere: lakes Butler, Down, Bessie and Crescent, and Wauseon Bay. The town operates two private boat ramps. One at Fernwood Park, at Seventh Avenue and Forest Street, gives access to Lake Butler. The second is located at Lake Bessie Park, at Ninth Avenue and Lake Bessie, which provides access to the landlocked Lake Bessie.
One public ramp with access to Lake Down is located on Conroy Windermere Road and is operated by Orange County. It has access to Lake down.
Smith said a common misconception is that the town of Windermere has jurisdiction of the lakes.
“The town only has jurisdiction to the normal high-water elevation,” he said. “The county and state have actual jurisdiction on the lakes.”
The Orange County Sheriff’s Office provides a boater’s guide on its website, ocso.com. It is Florida law that anyone born after Jan. 1, 1988, is required to take a state boating course before operating one.
Neither the town of Windermere or the OCSO offer boating safety courses, but several courses are available by the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary; the U.S. Power Squadrons, a national nonprofit boating organization; and state boating agencies, including the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
Call (800) 336-BOAT for information on courses, which are offered both in the classroom and online.
The OCSO Marine Unit has been in place for more than 30 years, with five deputies. Six deputies are assigned to the Agricultural Crimes Unit but are cross-certified with the Marine Unit; five supervisors also are certified.