Year after year, the State of Florida leads the nation in the number of boating accidents and fatalities. In 2011 alone, there were 742 accidents involving boats. There were 67 fatalities. With one million registered vessels, and a likely one million unregistered craft, Florida has more boats than any other state in the country.
Here are some important facts to keep in mind when boating in Florida:
1. The main shipping channels will be on a map. Make sure you know where these are and avoid them when large craft is in the area. Some of the vessels that use Tampa Bay are as large as two football fields and clumsy to manage. Add to that the pilot’s limited visibility for nearby small craft, and it is your responsibility to stay out of his way.
2. Personal watercraft, also known as jet skis or water scooters, are classified as boats and therefore subject to the same regulations. The trouble is, these are too easy for anybody, however inexperienced, to rent. They should be regulated as tightly as firearms. In September 2013, two people were killed when their personal watercraft collided with a dolphin-cruise tour boat near the Clearwater Causeway Memorial Bridge. Just a few weeks earlier, a 15 year-old girl was killed when another personal watercraft collided with a tube in which she and a friend were being towed by her father in a center console boat.
3. One of the most common causes of accidents on the water is a passenger falling overboard. Make sure you have enough personal flotation devices for everyone on board. Inexperienced swimmers and children should be wearing a life jacket at all times.
4. If you are serving alcohol on your boat, make sure there is a designated driver. According to Florida law, anyone in charge of a vessel is required to consent, if requested to do so by a peace officer, to be tested for the presence of drugs, alcohol or any other type of intoxicating substance. Refusing to do so is punishable by a $500 fine. Someone also needs to monitor the drinkers, who are just a slip and fall away from serious injury or even death.
5. Know the speed restrictions and adhere to them. Many boating accidents could be prevented if the operator had enough reaction time to avoid a collision. In an Idle Speed, No Wake Zone, the vessel must be maintained at the lowest speed that will permit control of steerage. A Slow Speed, Minimum Wake Zone means that the vessel must be completely off plane and its wake must not be a hazard to other craft.
Florida is blessed with a generous coastline and miles and miles of inland waterways. While it is right that they should be enjoyed, boating enthusiasts need to understand the hazards and responsibilities associated with running even the simplest personal watercraft. If you have been involved in a boating accident, it is important to consult a personal injury lawyer who focuses on helping people who have suffered injury or property damage as the result of a waterway incident.