VENICE — The skippers meeting for the annual Venice Christmas Boat Parade is at 7 p.m. tonight, Dec. 4, at Venice City Hall. That is also the final call for entries.

“I was starting to get a little nervous but then at the end of October the applications started coming in,” parade chairman Joe Zgrzepski said Friday.

The Albany native succeeded John Osmulski who held the job for about 15 years, including last year, after moving to Key West.

Zgrzepski, who has been in the parade for four years, is optimistic about the number of boats in this year’s parade.

“The applications come rolling in every day, including a few from Sarasota,” he said. “We have some boats that go there too.”

As chairman, he was predicting at least 40 boats for this year’s parade. The record is 48. He would like to hit 50 — if not this year, then soon.

“My wife (Kristi) changed the color scheme on our boat last Wednesday,” Zgrzepski said. “I had to go out and buy more lights.”

He also has acquired two 15-inch speakers for his boat.

“Last year, I blew every speaker on the boat (a 25-foot Wellcraft),” he said. He had five. “I put the speakers on top ... and blast the sound out.”

On Friday night, his boat was towed in the Venice Holiday Parade, pulled by a Chevrolet Silverado truck loaned to him for the occasion by his employer, Sunset Chevrolet. While decked out with all those new lights, it was going to have many more lights by next Saturday when the parade departs from the Albee Road Bridge on the Intracoastal.

“The largest boat so far is 52 feet,” he said. “The smallest is about 16 feet. As long as they have navigation lights, they can enter.”

The smallest likely will be four or five dinghy sailboats, sailed by participants in Venice Youth Boating. VYB also will sail its power boat in the parade.

“We don’t want the 52-foot boat in front of a little John boat,” Zgrzepski said. “We try to break up the line-up. There is about 100 feet between boats in case someone has a running issue. ...Our top priority is safety.”

To that end, the fleet also will include the two Venice Police marine boats, a Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation boat, the County Sheriff’s boat, the Venice fire boat and two Sea Tow boats.

“If there is an issue, Sea Tow will tow that boat free of charge that night,” Zgrzepski said.

Boats gather north of the Albee Road bridge near Marker 15 along the Intracoastal Waterway before the start of the parade.

It’ll begin at 6 p.m. when Venice Master Police Officer Paul Joyce gives the signal for all the boats to switch on their lights and the Albee Road bridge goes up.

Thousands of watchers take choice spots along both sides of the Intracoastal Waterway, behind Venice Yacht Club, on both sides of the Venice jetties with some even on Snake Island. Because of recent dredging of the Intracoastal, the remaining dredging equipment may block some viewing spots near the Historic Venice Train Depot.

The parade heads south in the Intracoastal to the jetties where the boats head halfway out toward the Gulf of Mexico, turn around and head east until the areas of Venice Yacht Club where they head south to the club before returning to the waterway and continuing along the waterway to a spot just north of the Circus Bridge where they turn around to head back to the Albee Road bridge.

With more than 40 boats predicted to be in the parade, the last boat should return to the starting area by 9 p.m. The KMI Bridge and the Venice Avenue bridges will remain open throughout the parade. The Circus Bridge will remain closed for the duration of the parade to allow traffic to and from the island of Venice.

An incoming tide is predicted for this year’s parade.

“That should be nice, especially for the bigger boats,” Zgrzepski said.

The parade depends on sponsors to raise funds for local nonprofits, including Venice Youth Boating.

“Marine Max is back in this year and Pops Sunset Grill donated too,” he said. “There was no handbook. It is a learning curve for us this year. We did get quite a few sponsors. That helps.”

For more information, to sign up, donate, be a sponsor or volunteer, visit Venicechristmasboatparade.com, or contact Joe Zgrzepski at 941-718-8644 or joezgrzepski@gmail.com.

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