GULFPORT, Miss. (WLOX) - As a flotilla commander with the U.S. Coast Guard auxiliary, Jim McNeil is always thinking about boating safety.
“It’s always on our minds, whenever we are out,” he said. “We always, even if not in uniform, try to promote marine safety.”
The potential for problems this Fourth of July weekend gives McNeil a fright.
“We see some of the craziest things here on the water,” he said. “Not having a law enforcement presence is just asking for trouble.”
A budget battle in the state legislature left the Department of Marine Resources unfunded going into the Fourth of July holiday weekend. Gov. Tate Reeves announced a temporary funding solution to the DMR issue Thursday afternoon that would allow people to safely fish over the holiday. Had that not happened, DMR’s Marine Patrol boats could have been docked for one of the busiest boating weekends of the year.
“I have directed the state fiscal officer to escalate federal funds to make sure we can get their doors back open tomorrow. This is not a long term fix. It’s a short term fix, but it’s something I’m proud to be able to announce here on WLOX,” Reeves told WLOX’s David Elliott.
Earlier this week, DMR reached out to city and county agencies for help.
While flotilla members will be keeping an eye out for safety, they have no law enforcement authority.
McNeil said even with the U.S. Coast Guard, as well as the additional law enforcement on the water, it won’t make up for the loss of DMR.
“The crowd is going to double, and the force is going to be cut in half,” he said.
It leaves authorities to ask boaters to help police themselves.
“With the lack of law enforcement on the water, just be safe and, you know, look out for each other,” said Deputy Chief Chris Ryle with the Gulfport Police Department.
His department will send out its only boat for patrol starting Friday.
“There’s going to be less public safety response out there,” he said. “So you need to look out for each other.”
When it comes to emergency response, Gulfport Fire Chief Michael Beyerstedt is confident his department has the assets needed.
“From the dive/rescue part, we have our own team here with certified dive rescue people, and so we actually use DMR as a backup for us when we do have an operation,” he said.
Boater Robert Stroo said he feels safe going on the water with his boat safety training, but law enforcement is a necessity.
“It’s like being on the road,” he said. “You have to watch out for other people as well. So, yes, I would be safe to go out, but, it just gives me an extra feeling of confidence to have them out there.”