With over 10,000 miles of rivers, streams, lakes, and ocean coastline, it should come as no surprise that Florida leads the nation in boating accidents. According to a report by the U.S. Coast Guard, there were 684 accidents in 2016, up 7.3 percent from 2015. Have you, or has someone close to you, been involved in a boating accident? And if so, are you wondering if you are entitled to compensation?
Below we discuss different types of boating accidents and their corresponding legal cases.
Who Can Operate a Boat?
In the state of Florida, a driver must be 14 years old or over to operate a water vehicle with 10 horsepower or more, and 18 years old or over to rent or lease one. In 2011, a law was passed that requires persons born on or after January 1, 1988 to complete a boater education course, approved by the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators (NASBLA) or to pass an approved equivalency exam.
However, that still leaves a large amount of the population legally able to operate a vessel without any training or study. Unlike automobiles, in which people tend to be prepared before attempting to drive, having at the very least practiced in order to pass a driving test, many who drive a watercraft gravely underestimate the difficulty and danger.
Often, people do not understand simple concepts such as right of way, boating lanes, and other boating regulations. Others either fail to realize or disregard that alcohol laws apply to boaters as well as automobile drivers.
What to Do If You Have an Accident
The law requires that a vessel operator must report an accident as soon as possible if the accident led to vessel damage (of $2000 or more), or the disappearance or death of a person.
What you will want to do:
- Exchange information with the driver
- Get the other operator’s name and insurance
- Take a photo of the boat, including the Hull ID
- Take a photo of any evidence (the damage, beer cans, overcrowding)
What you don’t want to do — settle anything until you have contacted an attorney with experience in the field of maritime law.
Who Has Jurisdiction Over Boating Accidents?
In the event of an accident, you should contact the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), which has jurisdiction over most of the boating accidents in Florida and is usually the government agency tasked with investigating boating accidents. They investigate a number of boating accidents each year. A significant spike in the number of boating accidents is usually seen on holidays, and during Florida’s lobster mini-season, when more boats are on the water.
Causes of Boating Accidents
The term “boating accident” as used in this context includes accidents involving pleasure boats, yachts, personal watercraft such as jet skis and waverunners, as well as other resort activities like paddle boarding, water skiing, kiteboarding, and parasailing.
Every boat and personal watercraft operator has a legal responsibility to operate their vessel and navigate the waters safely. When a vessel operator is negligent, they along with the owner can be held liable for the harm that results.
Examples of negligent operation of a boat or other type of vessel include:
- Operating while intoxicated
- Anchoring in a channel
- Going too fast for conditions
- Reckless or careless operation
- Failure to use navigation or anchor lights while operating at night
- Failure to know and obey the “rules of the road”
- Failure to obey ‘Minimum Wake’ or ‘No Wake’ Zones
- Failure to make sure that safety equipment including lights are in good working condition
- Too many people onboard
- Failure to pay attention to surroundings
Occasionally, the defective design or manufacture of boats or personal watercraft is the cause of an accident. These defects can be due to:
- Structural Design
- Faulty engines
- Electrical malfunction
- Defective fuel tanks
- Propeller Issues
- Navigation lights
- Backfire Flame Control Devices
In these cases, the manufacturer of the defective part in question may be liable.
Injuries that can result from boating accidents are often severe and can include traumatic brain injury, closed head trauma, spinal cord injury, paralysis, fractures, drowning, death and even amputation and severe, permanent disfigurement from lacerations caused by contact with boat propellers.
Deaths from Boating Accidents
The majority of deaths from these accidents are classified by investigators as drowning even when other incapacitating injuries were inflicted. Drowning often occurs because of injuries sustained in the initial impact before victims end up in the water. In the case of a collision with another boat or navigation aid, vessel occupants are often injured when they strike the interior of the boat as they are being thrown into the water.
Sadly, most of these deaths could have been prevented; according to the same Coast Guard study, 83% of drowning victims from a boating accident did not have a life jacket on; 15% of deaths were due at least in part to alcohol. These can legally be considered wrongful deaths, and could be liable for negligence.
When Do Most Boating Accidents Occur?
Answer: the summer months, particularly holidays like the 4th of July. Both the Fourth and New Year’s Eve present an unusually heightened risk for boating since many boaters are on the water at night to watch fireworks when visibility is poor making other vessels and channel markers more difficult to see.
Ironically, many of these accidents don’t have anything to do with awful climate or perilous ocean conditions. They commonly happen in littler, open vessels on inland waters amid sunshine hours when the weather is fair and the visibility clear, the breezes are light, and the water is quiet. Regardless of these perfect conditions, travelers fall over the edge and many vessels invert.
General Safety Precautions:
- Ensure that everyone is has a life vest on.
- No overcrowding on your boat.
- No one should be walking or standing without securing themselves while boat is in high speed
- No one should sit on seat backs,the gunwale or bow
- Never risk dangerous weather, such as thunderstorms or tropical depressions.
If you have any other questions regarding boating accidents, or whether you should obtain counsel, contact us for more information.