Swimmers take issue with no flotation devices allowed at Miami-Dade County parks

Officials say only Coast Guard-approved life vests permitted

MIAMI-DADE COUNTY, Fla. – Part of coming to the beach for a lot of people is being able to kick back and relax. But if you're going to a beach at a Miami-Dade County park, you better leave your floats at home.

Carlos Seoane and Steve Lauer have spent most of the last several decades enjoying the sun and the sand and relaxing on their floats in the ocean off Haulover Park.

But in the last few months, both of them said lifeguards have started enforcing a little-known statute in Miami-Dade County that makes using floats in parks against the rules.

"I'm not trying to create problems. I'm just trying to enjoy myself at the beach," Lauer said.

The aquatics safety director for Miami-Dade parks, Jim O'Connor, said the rule isn't meant to kill the fun, but is all about safety.

"(It's) especially important with non-swimmers and children, where they'll be in shallow water where they can stand up, and then the next minute they're out in deep water," he said.

O'Connor also said floats tend to deflate, making them unsafe, and bigger ones can even make it hard for a lifeguard to see other swimmers.

But Seoane and Lauer, who are both disabled, are taking issue with the enforcement of the rule, saying an exception that exists for people with disabilities should allow them to use their floats, yet they are still being kicked out of the water.

"It's not being unsafe. I get tired easy," Seoane said.

"He'll come over and tell me, 'Take that out of the water. It's not allowed,'" Lauer said.

When asked about the exception for those with disabilities, O'Connor acknowledged that it does exist. Although it is vague, he said the exception is for people to use a U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket.

Seoane said he's already tried that.

"And I use it, and they would throw me out of the water," he said.

O'Connor admits that was probably a mistake, and said while there is a blanket ban on floats in general, it is up to a lifeguard's discretion on what is safe and what isn't.

"Those are the questions the lifeguard's always asking. 'What happens if they fall off of this object? Is that going to give them some type of support?'" O'Connor said.

The rule applies to all flotation devices, including water wings for kids.

So swimmers are urged to stick to U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jackets to avoid having any issues.

Below is the full Miami-Dade County rule on flotation devices at county parks:

"No person, minor or adult, shall enter or be in water at any bathing area wearing, carrying, pushing or towing any flotation device; provided, however, that surfboarding may be engaged in at certain prescribed areas that may from time to time be specifically designated for such sport by posted signs. Notwithstanding the above prohibition, the department is authorized to permit the use of any such device when required to accommodate park supervised programs or the needs of individuals with disabilities."

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