A new “Aqua Alert” system has been developed after a kayaker disappeared last year in the Gulf. It will notify Emergency Responders and Okaloosa County residents of missing or endangered boaters or kayakers and aid in the search.
It was launched as the result of a collaborative effort between the City of Destin, the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office and the Okaloosa County Board of County Commissioners.
The Aqua Alert idea was conceived by Minnesota resident and Destin snowbird Judy Schink after her husband, 61-year old Dave Schink, disappeared while kayaking in the Gulf of Mexico February 13th, 2021. During a search and rescue operation, Dave’s kayak was discovered 20 miles offshore of Destin, but tragically he was never located.
Legacy Fisherman Mayor Gary Jarvis said, “Judy has been a lighthouse in her own family’s storm. I admire her strength in sharing her husband’s story and I have been blessed to help facilitate making her family’s concept come to fruition. It is our hope that Aqua Alert will prevent future tragedies and become a successful, lifesaving tool on the water.”
Here’s how it works: When a boater is reported missing, a preliminary investigation will be done to determine if the disappearance poses a credible threat to the person’s welfare and safety. If it is determined by the OCSO Shift Supervisor the boater is missing and endangered, and a sufficient description of the missing person and/or vessel with a travel plan is known, the Shift Supervisor will approve an Aqua Alert. The OCSO Special Operations Unit will be notified along with the Coast Guard and Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission. If safe conditions exist, a search and rescue will be launched. The Aqua Alert information will also be distributed to the public through the OCSO’ Sheriff’s App mobile phone notification system, as well as social media. The information is then available to those who want to voluntarily help keep an eye out for any sighting.
“Okaloosa County is home to some of the most popular boating areas in the U.S.,” said Sheriff Eric Aden. “Having a rapid way to get out detailed information when a life is in danger will mean potentially thousands of additional eyes on the water to help.”
“The safety of our community is paramount,” said Okaloosa Board of County Commissioners Chairman Mel Ponder. “A rapid response to water-based emergencies can save lives, therefore increased awareness can improve the chances of a successful water rescue.”