According to Okaloosa County ordinance, boats must be 700 feet offshore. But some visitors say the boats get much closer than that.

DESTIN — A visitor is worried about reckless boating habits after an incident that happened while he was fishing off a beach earlier this week.

Paul Janzen, of Cincinnati, Ohio, visits Destin with his wife Danita several times a year. They stay at the Islander condominiums on Holiday Isle, and Janzen says that’s where he was Monday morning when he was fishing with his wife and friend.

“We were fishing for pompano, and our lines were, maybe, 75 feet tops from the shoreline,” Janzen said. “We had three lines in the water. ... It was a clear day and all of a sudden, out of the blue, this boat comes through just busting butt.”

Janzen said before he knew it, all three of his custom-made rods were bent over — but it wasn’t because they had fish on them. The boat had run over the lines, snagged them and eventually dragged all three of the rods out of their PVC pipe holders.

“The first pole stuck in the sand, the second one my wife went into the water and got, and the third one disappeared,” Janzen said.

He said he then saw the boat continuing its reckless path farther down the beach.

“As we watched, the boat went through swimmers on both sides of them,” he said. “The boat was zig-zagging left and right, it went right through swimmers and snorkelers.”

Janzen called the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office, who told him there was nothing they could do because they hadn’t seen the boat in person. Janzen later flagged down a marine patrol deputy, who unsuccessfully tried to find the boat based on Janzen’s description.

Janzen estimates the boat was about 75 yards from shore. According to Okaloosa County ordinance, boats are supposed to remain at least 700 feet from shore. 

Janzen said that wasn’t the only time he had seen boats too close to shore.

“It seems like in the last 12 to 24 months, there’s been more recklessness, and I don’t see any water patrols,” he said. “I mean, I may see a helicopter go past really quick, or the Coast Guard, but they’re heading to another call…they’re not being proactive.

“The beach is Destin’s bread and butter,” he added. “And you have this kind of, 'Get in the water and good luck’ attitude.” 

OCSO spokeswoman Michele Nicholson said there have been no reported incidents in the last year of swimmers being hit by boaters. She also said that deputies regularly patrol boating “hot spots” including Crab Island, the harbor and East Pass.

“(Our marine units) would of course intervene in and be concerned about any situation where someone was spotted endangering someone else or violating a law or ordinance in any location,” Nicholson said in an email. “However, for deputies to cite an individual for violating the county ordinance on proximity to shore, they would have to actually witness the incident.”

Janzen said even though he lost his fishing gear, he was worried about what else could have happened that morning.

“They cost me over a thousand dollars in fishing gear,” Janzen said. “But that was nothing compared to what they could have done if the wrong person had been in the way of their boat.”