13 boaters saved from sinking boat near Anclote Key

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A day of fun in the sun quickly turned into a massive rescue effort off Anclote Key Sunday.

13 people in a rented 20-foot pontoon boat found themselves sinking. 

"Sadly, we could have been talking about a mass casualty out there and people dying," said Pasco County Sheriff Chris Nocco. "Fortunately, thank God, everybody's safe and today's about a learning lesson going forward for the rest of the summer."

The sheriff's office says the water conditions were less than ideal for boating Sunday. They estimate there were 25-mile-per-hour winds and three-foot tall waves. 

"In seas like that, they really should have taken warning," said Corporal Russ Meissner of Pasco County. "The small craft advisory, if you don't know how to swim, realistically, stay off the water. Learn how to stick a life jacket on, buy a life jacket, take it out of the package, and learn how to put it on. This could have been a prime example of a real mass casualty."

Of those rescued, none of them were wearing a life jacket. Two had to be taken to the hospital, but are expected to recover. The others had minor injuries. 

They were just 10 minutes offshore when their boat began tipping backward and water began to fill it up. 

Luckily, a concerned citizen, Captain Martin Smith saw what was happening and was able to bring three of the boaters on to his boat before more help arrived. 

"Mr. Smith, he did an awesome job," said Corporal Mitch Bollenbacher, also with the Pasco County Sheriff's Office. "I don't know what his background is, but to pull three people out of the water in a pontoon boat, without water in those sea conditions, is hard for someone that trains every day." 

Sheriff Nocco hopes this incident will be a lesson for all boaters who will spend their summers on the water this summer.

"If you're going out on the water this summer, please be careful. Watch the weather forecasts, if they say there's a small boat advisory, take heed warning on that."

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is investigating the incident. The Pasco County Sheriff's Office speculates the rough water conditions were the cause of this incident.