Boaters take part in Night in Venice boat parade in Ocean City Saturday, July 20, 2013.

Edward Lea

Ocean City's Night in Venice parade got a boost in boats this year as the HERO Campaign honored service members and other "heroes who keep US Jersey strong."

The 15-vessel fleet from Seaview Harbor Marina even included a barge with an Army truck and members of each military branch.

The campaign seemed even more fitting as the annual boat brigade passed by some waterfront homes that still show damage from Hurricane Sandy.

"Under Construction" said one. "We are Jersey Strong" boasted another.

Some docks warned of not being safe to walk on, although it was unclear whether those were just for show. Especially as several had people sitting on them, waving to the passing boats.

"You can still see some damage from the storm," Marie Murphy, of Linwood, said.

But the atmosphere was its regular party self, as music blared from boats and people screamed and waved from decks and docked boats. Every year, people flood the island to watch the decorated boats, waving from homes, some of which also take part in the fun themes. This year one included catching the ever valuable "Sea Quester."

Marie and Mike Murphy normally watch the parade, but this year their boat hosted the Marines in the HERO campaign.

Started by Bill Elliott, the campaign pushes for designated drivers in honor of Elliott's son, Naval Ensign John Elliott, who died in a crash with a drunken driver in 2000.

Justin Frankel was a sophomore at Absegami High School when he learned of the campaign and was immediately drawn to it, not for the message but for John Elliott.

"He was who I was aspiring to be," said Frankel, now 22 and the Marine representative in the boat parade.

As the Marine's song blared and Frankel waved, people on the docks applauded, raised their fists in pride and even saluted. One couple gave him a "thank you" in sign language.

The Galloway Township man was both proud and humbled by the show of support.

"I wish the other guys had made it," he said of other Marines who were expected on the boat. "I haven't really done anything yet." He graduated Stockton last year.

About 70 boats participated in the parade route, which was change a bit this year due to not enough water in certain coves courtesy of the storm.

There was some confusion in the line up as smaller boats ventured into the shallow waters, leaving the bigger vessels to wait for them to keep the parade in order.

Marie Murphy said they often attend the parade, but there had started to be a lot of drinking.

"Maybe that's why the HERO campaign joined in," said Rose McCarthy, of Somers Point.

"We're not about not celebrating," Frankel said. "It's just about being careful when it's time to go home."

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