DESTIN, Fla. (WKRG) — A new text notification through the Okaloosa County Sheriff app alerts registered phones of missing and distress water calls in Northwest Florida.

The first-of-its-kind alert system is a product of a 2021 tragedy in Destin. David Schink, 61, was lost when his kayak paddle broke at sea, and he was never seen again. His wife Judy and their son created Aqua Alert.

“It was a beautiful day that day, and had we been able to alert boats in the harbor, he may have been saved because he was an excellent swimmer,” said Judy Schink. “Then my son came up with this idea of having an Aqua Alert to notify boats, just like the Amber Alert notifies drivers.”

“Right now what happens is you call 911 or the Coast Guard and they go through a process to try to verify who it is and if they’re missing and when they do that then they’ll get on channel 16 and issue a pon pon pon which is just a notice to Mariners to keep your eyes and ears out, that there’s a swimmer in the water, or a kayaker missing, or the report of a boat that’s overdue, ” said Destin Mayor Gary Jarvis.

Destin is the spearhead of his new life-saving measure. Mayor and long-time mariner Gary Jarvis said the system makes sense.

“What will happen is it’s going to cover a much broader base, especially here in Okaloosa County, because we have such a large boating community,” said Jarvis. “Because most people, when they’re out on their boat and join the day, they don’t listen to channel 16 and when pon pon pons are issued, a very small amount of the boaters actually are made aware that there’s an issue.”

Aqua Alert is not meant for people to go search and rescue, that is still the jog of the U.S. Coast Guard. However, this is meant to notify those already on the water to keep an eye out and help if they can.

The pilot program is already up and running. Those with the Okaloosa County Sheriff app can turn on the Aqua Alert notification in the settings.

Sheriff Eric Aden will host a demonstration and launch event Wednesday at 10 a.m. at the Shalimar headquarters.

“You can go on the sheriff’s app and sign up to receive notifications from Aqua Alert, but the official launch is tomorrow (Wednesday), the Sheriff’s going to explain how it works and the things that they do before they actually issue an Aqua Alert just to inform the public,” said Jarvis.

Aqua Alert is aimed to be more than an 850 area code system. Judy created a law that passed the U.S. House this year, moving into the Senate for consideration. She said they hope it becomes a national program.

Mayor Jarvis said even those vacationing or living in the high-rise balconies should sign up for the program. The goal is to get more eyes and ears on the water.

“With more eyes and ears and the awareness in a bad situation, it could mean the difference between life and death for someone.”

Destin Mayor Gary Jarvis

The Okaloosa County Sheriff app is free to download on all Apple and Android devices.

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