TAMPA — Boaters beware: Things are about to get slower in the lower Hillsborough River.
The Tampa City Council will consider this morning an ordinance extending downtown's no-wake zone another 500 feet north and south of Water Works Park. The park, which opens next week, will have a dock and boat launch for canoes and kayaks.
When the dock request came to the Hillsborough County Environmental Protection Commission and the Southwest Florida Water Management District for approval, both agencies warned that its proximity to the river's main channel could put boaters at risk. The current no-wake zone starts near where Interstate 275 crosses the river and stretches south into Garrison and Seddon channels.
This morning's action is the first reading of the ordinance. It will need a second reading and the mayor's signature to take effect.
When he was a city councilman 17 years ago, Mayor Bob Buckhorn opposed a year-round no-wake zone south of Columbus Drive to protect rowers. The zone put a burden on power boaters by tripling the time it took to get out to the bay, he said at the time.
He favored lifting restrictions during the months when the rowing was rarer.
On Wednesday, Buckhorn said the growing focus on river-based activities downtown requires the new restriction.
“The addition of new residents, new boat slips, and a destination restaurant makes it imperative that we slow the boats down,” Buckhorn said, “because that will only cause damage to the docks and to the boats.”
Water Works Park is adjacent to the Gonzmart family's Ulele Restaurant, which will open in the historic former Water Works Building later this month.
Chris Murphy, who runs paddleboard excursions out of Urban Kai, a riverside site between Columbus Drive and North Boulevard, welcomes the change.
Boaters zipping up and down the river throw off wakes that can dump novice paddlers from their boards and damage property along the river, he said. In addition, the bend in the river where the no-wake zone would be extended is a blind curve.
“There's a sizable number that try to knock us off our boards,” Murphy said. “I would hope if they're going to enforce a new no-wake zone, they'll patrol it.”
The no-wake zone requires powerboats to run their engines at minimal power to avoid creating waves that can damage docks and riverbanks and put smaller craft at risk of capsizing.
But the slower speed also makes idling engines work harder, said Butch Gonzalez of Zephyrhills, a retired Port of Tampa tugboat captain out on the river for the day with his wife and great-grandson.
Gonzalez had taken 20 minutes at idle speed to navigate his Sea Ray up the river to Rick's on the River, where the group stopped for a break.
Expanding the no-wake zone to the northern edge of Blake High School could test some boaters' patience, he said.
“It's going to take more time,” he said.