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Boating and Water Craft Accidents in Florida

Author: Webmaster / August 8, 2016 / Categories:

As of 2003 there were 12,794,616 registered boats and personal watercraft machines in the United States. According to Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission, Florida occupies over one million of these registered boats, beating even California as the nation’s boating capitol. In addition to this, approximately 450,000 boats registered in other states use Florida waterways in any given year.

With miles of coastline and waterways, Florida is also a natural docking point for commercial shipping boats, commercial fishing boats, cruise ships and recreational watercraft. Florida’s destination as one of the leading world vacation spots means that water sports such as water skiing, swimming, boating, wake boarding, jet skiing and fishing are often sought out by those who live and visit here. Although these types of activities are enjoyable, they can become dangerous when operated by inexperienced or intoxicated individuals.

Boating Accident Statistics

According to the United States Coast Guard Office of Boating Safety,each year there are more than 8,500 boating accidents resulting in more than 4,500 serious injuries and 850 deaths in the United States. In 2003 there were 5,438 accidents, 3,888 injuries, and 703 fatalities as a result of boating and personal watercraft use. As a result of the 5,438 accidents, there was a total of $40,422,374 in property damage. Because of Florida’s expansive coastline, tropical climate and unbelievable diving and fishing opportunities, it has become one of the most popular boating areas in the world. Unfortunately, due to the high traffic and the number of inexperienced boat operators visiting Florida, it is also one of the most dangerous boating areas in the world and unfortunately the national leader in serious boating accidents.

According to the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission, there were 671 boating accidents in Florida in 2006 with 420 people being injured and 69 fatalities. Property damage from the 671 boating accidents was valued at over $8.6 million. In 2009 Florida led the nation in the total number of boating accidents with 620 with resulting property damage exceeding $10 million.

Types of Water Craft Accidents

Boat accidents

Typical boating accidents can involve collisions with other boats, boat capsizing from large wakes, slip and falls on cruise ships, collisions with fixed objects, running ashore or faulty design or manufacturing of boats or boat parts.

Personal water craft liability

Accidents involving personal water craft machines can result from collisions with other machines, collisions with boats, flipping the device and running into a stationary object. Often, these types of accidents are caused from such factors as negligent operation, using excessive speed, jumping waves or boat wakes, improper training of minors who are renting Jet skis and improper utilization of safety devices.

Swimmers and divers

Accidents can also involve swimmers, snorkelers or divers being struck by boats or personal watercraft. These incidents can occur if the boat operator fails to keep a proper lookout, drives too close to diving buoys or operates their boat or personal watercraft in designated swimming areas.

According to the US Coast Guard, the primary boat or watercraft accident types that result in death or injury are:

  • collisions with other boats or fixed objects
  • passengers falling overboard
  • water ski mishaps
  • capsized watercraft

Causes of Boat Accidents

According to the United States Coast Guard, the most reported type of boating accident involved a collision with another vessel. The most common types of boats involved in the reported accidents were open motor boats (representing 42% of boat collisions), personal watercraft (27%) and cabin motor boats (14%). Also, capsizing or falls overboard are the most reported types of fatal accidents according to the US Coast Guard, accounted for over half (57%) of all boating fatalities. Approximately 70% of these fatalities occurred when the victim drowned, and 86% of the victims who drowned were not wearing a personal flotation device or life jacket.

The most common causes of boating accidents are:

  • operator inattention
  • negligent, careless or reckless operation
  • excessive speed
  • alcohol use
  • no proper lookout
  • operator inexperience
  • weather
  • improper equipment
  • equipment failure
  • failure to have proper safety equipment on board
  • failure to obey posted laws
  • improper lighting

Who is Responsible for a Boating Accident?

On the water the captain of each and every vessel is responsible for his or her actions and the effect of his or her actions has on other boaters. This responsibility is defined throughout various rules and laws that the captain must follow, including the duty to use reasonable care when operating a water craft vessel.

In Florida specifically, each boater is responsible for the effect his or her wake has on other boats and boaters.

Some Common Florida Boating Laws

  1. It is unlawful to operate a vessel in a reckless manner. A person is guilty of reckless operation of a vessel who operates any vessel, or manipulates any water skis, aquaplane, or similar device, in willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property at a speed or in a manner as to endanger, or likely to endanger, life or limb, or damage the property of, or injure any person. Reckless operation of a vessel includes, but is not limited to, a violation of s. 327.331(6). Any person who violates a provision of this subsection commits a misdemeanor of the first degree, punishable as provided in s. 775.082 or s. 775.083.
  2. Any person operating a vessel upon the waters of this state shall operate the vessel in a reasonable and prudent manner, having regard for other waterborne traffic, posted speed and wake restrictions, and all other attendant circumstances so as not to endanger the life, limb, or property of any person. The failure to operate a vessel in a manner described in this subsection constitutes careless operation. However, vessel wake and shoreline wash resulting from the reasonable and prudent operation of a vessel shall, absent negligence, not constitute damage or endangerment to property. Any person who violates the provisions of this subsection commits a noncriminal violation as defined in s. 775.08.
  3. Each person operating a vessel upon the waters of this state shall comply with the navigation rules.
    1. A person whose violation of the navigation rules results in a boating accident, but whose violation did not constitute reckless operation of a vessel, is guilty of a misdemeanor of the second degree, punishable as provided in s. 775.082 or s. 775.083.
    2. A person whose violation of the navigation rules does not result in a boating accident and does not constitute reckless operation of a vessel is guilty of a noncriminal violation as defined in s. 775.08.
    3. Law enforcement vessels may deviate from the navigational rules when such diversion is necessary to the performance of their duties and when such deviation may be safely accomplished.
  4. Unless otherwise provided in this chapter, the ascertainment of fault in vessel operations and boating accidents shall be determined according to the navigation rules.
  5. The owner and operator of every vessel on the waters of this state shall carry, store, maintain, and use safety equipment in accordance with current United States Coast Guard safety equipment requirements as
  6. No person shall operate a vessel less than 26 feet in length on the waters of this state unless every person under 6 years of age on board the vessel is wearing a Type I, Type II, or Type III Coast Guard approved personal flotation device while such vessel is underway. For the purpose of this section, “underway” shall mean at all times except when a vessel is anchored, moored, made fast to the shore, or aground.
  7. No person shall operate a vessel on the waters of this state unless said vessel is equipped with properly serviceable lights and shapes required by the navigation rules.
  8. The use of sirens or flashing, occulting, or revolving lights on any vessel is prohibited, except as expressly provided in the navigation rules or annexes thereto.
  9. Except for sailboats, canoes, kayaks, and inflatable boats, this section applies to all monohull motorboats less than 20 feet in length that are: manufactured or used primarily for noncommercial use; leased, rented, or chartered to another for the latter’s noncommercial use; or engaged in the carrying of six or fewer passengers for hire.
  10. No person shall sell or offer for sale any vessel described in subsection (1) unless said vessel displays the maximum capacity information as prescribed in 33 C.F.R. part 183. This shall not apply to resales, but it is the intent of this section to require dealers and manufacturers to furnish this information upon the original sale.
  11. No person shall operate any vessel described in subsection (1) when said vessel exceeds the maximum weight capacity, maximum persons capacity, or maximum horsepower capacity. If no maximum capacity information is displayed, the capacities shall be calculated as provided in 33 C.F.R. part 183, subparts C and D. This subsection shall not preclude the finding of reckless operation under s. 327.33(1) when a vessel is operated in a grossly overloaded or overpowered condition.

What can an Attorney Do for Victims of Boating Accidents?

A detailed investigation into the causes of a personal water craft accident will naturally look into the operator or rider’s compliance with boating laws and regulations. Certain questions such as was another boater at fault? was anything wrong with the personal water craft itself? need to be addressed to develop a viable theory of liability. If liability is successfully attributed, a lawyer can help a victim of a boating accident to acquire the appropriate compensation for their injuries and losses.

If you or a loved one are injured while operating or riding on a boat or personal watercraft in Florida, you are always welcome to seek legal help from a personal injury lawyer. The Daytona Beach accident attorneys at Rue & Ziffra, have over 30 years combined experience pursuing and obtaining compensation for boating accident victims, including those injured while riding a personal watercraft.

The above entry is NOT LEGAL ADVICE and should not be intended or construed as such. It is intended only as general information. No individual reading it should act upon it. Reading this entry does not create any relationship between Rue & Ziffra and individuals reading it. If you have questions or concerns, please seek professional legal counsel.

Boating and Water Craft Accidents in Florida
Written by: Allan L. Ziffra, Esq.
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