PORTSMOUTH, R.I. (WPRI) ─ A popular celebration that many boat enthusiasts look forward to and state officials dread is scheduled to make a full return this year.
Every year on the last day of July, Aquapalooza attracts hundreds of boaters to Potters Cove in Portsmouth.
The pandemic kept the crowds at bay last year, but this year, R.I. Department of Environmental Management’s Mike Healey tells 12 News they’re not looking forward to the event’s big comeback.
“We dread it because there’s so many people, there’s a lot of drinking and there are injuries every year,” he said. “We’ve had people jumping from one big boat to the other, missing the boat they’re trying to jump to and falling down and breaking ribs. We’ve had a woman seriously injure her neck.”
Healey said the event isn’t state sanctioned and is typically organized through a private Facebook group.
“It’s a semi-spontaneous gathering of hundreds of boats,” he said. “So law enforcement has to patrol that because of the bad things that can happen with that many people when they’re drinking.”
Two years ago, a boat sank amidst the celebration. Thankfully no one was injured in that incident, Healey said, but it certainly created a hassle for those who responded to help.
“It’s almost all downsides trying to deal with this,” Healey said. “It requires a huge response to try and keep it somewhat under control.”
Portsmouth Harbor Master Bruce Celico described the event as “a headache.”
Celico said each year his biggest cause for concern are attendees who speed around the inlet on their jet skis.
“With them zipping in between the boats, you’ll have people that will be in the water, and jet skis are not like cars and they don’t turn like boats,” he explained.
Healey said it’s not just the reckless behavior he’s worried about. With the number of people and boats expected to attend, he’s also concerned about the spread of the delta variant.
“As a society and as a state right now we’re all hoping to breathe a sigh of relief with regard to COVID, but we’re really not out of the woods yet,” Healey said. “The delta variant is present and it’s serious.”
“Aquapalooza encourages close proximate interactions and that’s obviously far from ideal in terms of trying to protect oneself from COVID transmission,” he continued.
Celico said he hopes those who do attend the celebration will keep the safety of themselves and others in mind while out on the water.
“We’re not out there to be the fun police,” he said. “We’re out there to make sure that everyone is having a great time, but doing so responsibly.”