Policing Boca Bash cost $45K. Someone died. There’s little Boca can do.


A wild and often out-of-control boating party that brings thousands to the Intracoastal Waterway in Boca Raton is costly and, this year, was even deadly.

But there is little Boca Raton can do to manage the event.

The music and booze-drenched Boca Bash draws thousands of boaters, kayakers and paddle boarders to Lake Boca every April for a non-sponsored, social media-fueled party.

After learning a 32-year-old man drowned during this year’s Boca Bash, city leaders revisited their options in regulating the event. Police reminded the city council at a meeting Monday that the city’s options are limited.

“There’s very little we can do in terms of regulation,” Chief Dan Alexander said.

City police heavily staffs the event. Thirty-eight police officers monitored Boca Bash this year, which cost taxpayers about $35,400. Boca Raton Fire Rescue spent another $9,300 responding to emergency calls during the event.

Police brought in help from the U.S. Coast Guard and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Still, the “vexing” Boca Bash, as Alexander described it, grew tragic this year when a man was spotted at the bottom of a shallow part of the Intracoastal Waterway hours after the boat party began. He drowned while swimming, police say.

“One life lost for this event is too much,” Councilwoman Andrea O’Rourke said.

But police and code enforcement can do little other than enforce the law once the event begins, Alexander said.

Fish and Wildlife issued six boating-while-intoxicated citations and 16 boating violations during the April 29 event. Boca Police issued seven uniform violations, presumably for life jacket violations. The department also issued nine warnings and seven juvenile referrals, Alexander said.

The city continued mulling its options Monday. One councilman, Jeremy Rodgers, even suggested the city organize and sponsor the event in the future to allow more control.

“Obviously, for safety reasons, we’d rather the event didn’t occur but … you can take better control of it if it’s your event,” Rodgers said.

Only the city can’t. State law offers little recourse for regulating events in the Intracoastal Waterway.

A city-sponsored boat party wouldn’t allow the control the city is seeking, and present a greater liability problem if something goes wrong, city attorney Diana Grub Frieser said.

The event is marketed on a Facebook page founded by a Boca Raton resident. Police reached out to the Facebook page’s creator, who suggested he’d engage in the Monday discussion, but didn’t show up to the meeting, Alexander said.

Boca Bash grew organically from its modest origin as a 2007 birthday party, advertised on a now-defunct website in the days before Facebook when Myspace reigned supreme. The founders — Brad Geisen, Scott McCure and Rockey Rossi — planned a Lake Boca blowout for Rossi’s birthday, but cancelled after pressure from police, they told The Palm Beach Post.

But scores of boaters showed up anyway. And they continued to show up on Sundays in late April every year, creating an unofficial (and unwelcome) Boca Raton tradition.

Because it isn’t an organized or planned event, simply a gathering of boats in the Intracoastal Waterway, Boca Bash-ers were never required to get a permit each year, the city said.

Despite the best attempts of the city and police to restrict the event, it grew to the hugely popular gathering it is today, drawing thousands to the center of Lake Boca.

Mayor Scott Singer instructed police to continue heavy monitoring of the event and outreach to Boca Bash boaters.

“Just continue to reach out to organizers and those involved and remind them: ‘Last year, someone died,’ ” Singer said. “It’s a very fine line between a fun afternoon boating and a very unsafe afternoon that has significant ramifications.”



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