Although Florida seems hotter than anywhere else in the country, what makes Florida summers unique is how long they last. Unlike in other parts of the country, as a chill starts to hit the air, in Florida, we still have many more months of summer-like weather.
With that extended time period comes more time for summer recreation activities. One such activity that is almost a year-round event in Florida is boating. Yet, boating safety often seems to be overlooked by residents and visitors to the state alike.
Despite a Lack of Strong Laws, Basic Safety Measures Should be Followed
Florida leads the entire nation in boating accidents, with twice as many as the second leading state, California. It also leads the country in boating deaths.
Florida leads the nation in boat ownership, but not by a wide margin. The disparity between Florida’s accident rate as compared to other states with near similar boat ownership totals indicates to some that Florida’s boat safety regulations are much too weak.
But laws do not always mean safety. Common sense plays a role, as well. Many boating accidents are caused simply by inexperience. Florida has no minimum age requirement to operate a boat.
Boating courses are required, but not for those born before 1988, meaning that anybody who is approaching 30 can operate a boat with no experience and no training.
Laws Require Boats Have Certain Equipment on Board
Florida law does require all boaters have a life vest/life preserver, sized for people on the boat. Yet, coast guard patrol still report finding people who ignore this precaution. According to a 2016 study, 75% of people involved in boating accidents were not wearing preservers.
Boats bigger than 16 feet must also have a float attached to a rope to throw to anybody who may go overboard. All vessels must have a device to give out an audible warning, such as a referee’s whistle and must have three visual distress devices onboard if the vessel is on the water after sundown.
Paying Attention to Conditions on and off the Boat
Law enforcement also advises that boaters be aware of weather conditions that could make waters unsafe for smaller sized boats. In many cases, water that seems calm can turn dangerous quickly. Boaters should especially avoid going out into winds that are higher than 15 mph. Even light winds that blow the wrong direction (such as towards land) can create waves that are too dangerous for certain crafts.
Just like in cars, inattention can lead to disaster. In 2016, the leading cause of boating accidents was inattention or the failure to keep a proper lookout. Boats do not brake or turn as sharply or quickly as cars do. The time to avoid an accident can pass quickly if operators are not looking. Boaters may be distracted by GPS devices, or just whatever is happening in the boat itself.
Of course, children on boats should be monitored at all times. Many children do not understand the dangers of boating or the waters that surround it, and are easily allured by the sights and sounds on the water. Young children have been injured by jumping off of a moving boat, and may end up being run over by the same boat from which they jumped.
Boating While Intoxicated
The blood alcohol limits for boat operators are the same for people driving cars. However, because people of any age can operate a boat, the law requires the BAL level for people under the age of 21 to be lower than .02 as opposed to the below .08 required with cars.
Law enforcement can stop a boat for almost any reason. They do not need to think that a crime is being committed, the way they do to stop a car. Additionally, it is mandatory that boaters submit to a breathalyzer test, whereas with cars, a driver can refuse (but the driver’s license can be suspended for that refusal).
Despite all these seemingly stringent enforcement laws, one of the biggest problem is enforcement. Statistics show that boaters are pulled over much less frequently than motorists, even though it is often more likely that they are drinking given the fact that boating is a recreational activity and boats may be docked near clubs or bars. In 2011, only 213 citations for boating while intoxicated were given out by law enforcement.
Alex Fernandez Lawsuit
Boating while intoxicated is at the heart of a lawsuit involving former Marlins player Alex Fernandez, whose boat crashed, killing all aboard. The families of some of the victims have sued Fernandez’ estate, claiming that he was intoxicated at the time of the accident. The victims contend that Fernandez had been partying all night. One investigation concluded that Fernandez may have had illegal drugs in his bloodstream, and that the boat was travelling at its maximum speed when it crashed.
Fernandez’ estate denies these charges, and claims that Fernandez was not operating the boat.
Regardless, the accident and resulting lawsuit are bringing the issues of boating intoxication to the forefront.
Additional Legal Obligations Exist
Boaters have other legal obligations that are unique to being on the water. For example, Florida law requires boaters not only report to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission , but boaters must give “all possible aid” to people injured at the scene of an accident. Willfully disregarding safety rules and regulations is a criminal offense, a first degree misdemeanor.
If you are injured while on the water or on a boat, make sure you understand the law that apply to boaters. Contact Brill & Rinaldi today for a free consultation to discuss your boat accident case.