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Coney Island swimmers take water safety into their own hands with grassroots buoy campaign. They show us how it works.

Swimmers find legal loophole to place safety buoys off Coney Island
Swimmers find legal loophole to place safety buoys off Coney Island 02:37

NEW YORK -- A group of swimmers in Brooklyn say they're concerned about boats and jet skis getting to close, so they found a loophole to help keep the waters safe.

Within sight of the beach, Joe Koppelman jumped off a boat in head-to-toe scuba gear to find a cinderblock buried in the sand. 

Once located 17 feet under the surface, he attached a rope and installed a buoy with a sign: "Minimum Motocraft Distance 500 ft."

"It's a little bit like bicycling in Manhattan. You're enjoying the activity, but you also have trepidation about your safety," said Koppelman, an open water swimmer and diving enthusiast.

New York state law prohibits watercraft from coming within 500 feet of the beach, but for this group of open water swimmers, the start of the season also means an increase in boats and jet skis getting too close.

"My friend got run over by four jet skis on August 29, 2015. And that's when I started on the campaign to make the waters safer for swimmers," said Capri Djatiasmoro, who swims almost daily. 

Djatiasmoro shared video she took from that year showing a jet skier getting close to swimmers and appearing to violate the law. For years, she has asked various agencies to consider bringing back the buoy markers, which the city stopped installing in Coney Island in the 1990s.

"Two bills, two years in a row, passed the Assembly and got blocked in the Senate," said said.

The Parks Department maintains the shoreline to the 500-foot mark. 

"Buoys can be useful for indicating the distance to the shore; however, historically we have observed that some swimmers view the buoys as goals to reach, causing them to swim out to unsafe distances. Due to safety concerns, we have not used buoys in this area for this purpose since the 1990s," a Parks spokesperson told CBS New York in a statement.

So this group of swimmers found a legal loophole by applying for lobster trap permits from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. But instead of putting down actual traps, they put down signs 500 feet from shore -- big enough for watercraft and swimmers to see, but small enough that they don't attract too much attention from the beach.

Everything about it is a grassroots effort, from making the signs to the annual installation from a friend's boat. They estimate between materials and labor, their efforts cost hundreds of dollars.

Abby Jordan, an environmental activist and diving enthusiast, says feeling safe while swimming leads to an appreciation of our waterways.

"What Joe and Capri have been able to do over the years is create a system of swim safety that is visual, and then it leads to stories like this that helps folks know that you can swim in New York City waters. They are clear, they are clean," she said.

Past the 500-foot boundary, the water is patrolled by the Coast Guard and NYPD Harbor Unit, both of which encourage people who see dangerous behavior to call 911. But when it comes to their own safety, this group isn't taking any chances.

Have a story idea or tip in Brooklyn? Email Hannah by CLICKING HERE.

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