Floatopia Sets Sail

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Thousands flocked to the beach and took to the water for a giant alcohol fueled party called "Floatopia" on Saturday.

    More than 10,000 people were expected to float in rafts over the weekend just off-shore to avoid the beach booze ban voters approved in 2008.

    "You can consume alcohol on the water as long as your feet aren't touching the sand. It's challenging to police and to lifeguards, but we're doing the best we can,” Lt. James Filley said.

    He doesn’t recommend consuming alcohol and going into the water

    “It can be dangerous," he said. "There's always a potential for someone to slip out of a raft and fall into the water. So, we're very concerned about that."

    Many ignored the warning from officials and headed for the water.

    "It’s huge for college students and the people who live in the PB area," Pacific Beach resident Griffin Thall said.

    Thall and his friends run a social networking website called outnsd.com. and although they had a great time at last year's event, something bothered them.

    "Everyone was just floating around drink their beer, their alcohol and just throw it down in the water, and for up to two weeks after that, the beaches were trashed," he said.

    So, Griffin and his buddies decided this year would be different.

    "We're providing trashcans that were donated by the city parks and rec, we got trash bags, and we also have two big floaty pools that are going to be out there," Thall said.

    Those big floaty pools will serve as water dumpsters for all the empty bottles and cans.

    "We are also going to take all the cans that we collect and take them into our recycling center, and get the money from the recycling and then donate it back to the city parks and recs," Thall said.

    Griffin calls it the "Float responsibly" campaign and nearby residents call it a good idea.

    “They're policing themselves, taking care of it, it's good,” Pacific Beach resident Allen Rothman said.

    A screen grab of the Facebook Floatopia San Diego 2010 Spring Break page said there were 8,370 confirmed "guests," with another 5,022 saying they may attend.

    Floating Around the Beach Beer Ban

    [DGO] Floating Around the Beach Beer Ban
    The scene on Sail Bay Monday was a small fraction of what is what on Saturday. An estimated 1500 people pounding beer and booze. They were not drinking on the beach but out on the water where it is street legal, so to speak. (Published Tuesday, Sep 8, 2009)

    The water-based events -- also called raftopias and floatapalookas -- involve large groups of people drinking alcohol while drifting away from shore; touching the ground nullifies any legal protections offered by the strategy.

    Critics of such events are concerned about safety issues -- people have been spotted leaving the water, getting into their cars and driving away; also, inebriated persons stuck in the middle of large groups of rafts could fall into the water, rendering rescue difficult, if not impossible for lifeguards.

    Floating Around the Beach Beer Ban

    [DGO] Floating Around the Beach Beer Ban
    The scene on Sail Bay Monday was a small fraction of what is what on Saturday. An estimated 1500 people pounding beer and booze. They were not drinking on the beach but out on the water where it is street legal, so to speak. (Published Tuesday, Sep 8, 2009)

    Last fall, more than 1,000 people crowded onto Sail Bay for a similar event. As far as you could see on the bay, there were rafts with coolers of beer, people walking down to the water with 12-packs, all in an effort to get bypass the city's beach booze ban. Police said afterward that they arrested several people and issued 50 citations.

    Sgt. Rick Strobel with the Boating Safety Unit of the San Diego Lifeguards said that city agencies -- including the fire and police departments, as well as parks & rec -- were preparing for a large scale event.

    Floating Around the Beach Beer Ban

    [DGO] Floating Around the Beach Beer Ban
    The scene on Sail Bay Monday was a small fraction of what is what on Saturday. An estimated 1500 people pounding beer and booze. They were not drinking on the beach but out on the water where it is street legal, so to speak. (Published Tuesday, Sep 8, 2009)

    "Being aware of the event, we have taken steps to provide public safety," Strobel said. "We're going to staff the area with lifeguards to do our core job, which is prevent drowning and provide safety."

    Strobel said that lifeguards do not typically operate in the Sail Bay area but that his department would be doing so this weekend.

    "We will be bringing in roughly 10 to 15 additional lifeguards," Strobel said.

    Lifeguards are concerned about safety at the event and said that, while they have no specific plans to prevent the floats from creating large, floating islands, they are not ruling that out, either.

    "We will do our best to manage the event in the safest way possible," Strobel said. "Obviously, with thousands of people in the water, it will be a significant challenge."

    Alcohol abuse, of course, is another concern for lifeguards.

    "We understand that drinking is likely going to be involved, and as professional lifeguards, we do not recommend any kind of aquatic activity under the influence of alcohol," said Strobel.

    According to the Centers for Disease Control web site, "alcohol use is involved in up to half of adolescent and adult deaths associated with water recreation."

    Voters approved the beach booze ban in November 2008, making a one-year temporary ban permanent on all city beaches. The measure made it illegal to consume alcohol at all city beaches, Mission Bay Park and other coastal recreation areas. Last year, the City Council approved a measure making the ban permanent.

    Let us know what you think. Comment below, send us your thoughts via Twitter @nbcsandiego or add your comment to our Facebook page.