Understanding Boating Laws

Understanding Boating LawsMost of us are well aware of the dangers of driving a car under the influence, or of the dangers that others may present to us when they drive impaired or distracted. Most of us mind all of the traffic laws and do whatever we can to stay safe behind the wheel.

Many Florida residents seem to forget the safety issues involved when they are operating a vehicle on the water. Boating is an incredibly popular recreational activity, so much so that it is easy to forget that while fun, it also involves operating a multi-ton vehicle that is surrounded by deep water.

Boating Accident Statistics

That is why boating safety, and being aware of the rules of the water, is of utmost importance.

According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, In 2015, Miami Dade, Monroe, and Broward Counties ranked first, second, and third in the state for the number of boating accidents. Combined, the three counties had over 230 boating accidents. Fifty-two (52) resulted in fatalities. These numbers only account for accidents that resulted in damage to the boats—it does not account for incidents in which boaters sustained personal injury, without damage to the boat itself.

The main causes of injury were passengers going overboard after a boat collision, falls inside of boats, and boat-on-person collisions.

472 accidents occurred while the boat was cruising (actually moving), much higher than the number of accidents that occurred while the boat was docked or moored.

As would be expected, statewide, the summer months see the highest number of boating incidents. From May to July of 2015, there were 261 accidents, out of the 737 that occurred the entire year. That is about 35% of all boating accidents just in those three months alone.

When authorities reviewed the accidents to determine the cause or fault, the results are not surprising. 178 accidents were caused by being inattentive, or failing to look out. The next highest cause was operator inexperience, which was found to have caused 107 accidents. Excessive speed was found to have caused 58 accidents.

In 80% of the accidents, the victim was not ejected from the vessel. That means that injuries often occurred even when boats did not capsize or sink, and could also indicate that even “minor” boating incidents can cause serious injury.

These statistics do not even take into account personal watercraft injuries and deaths, which are tracked separately. Taking those into account, the totals are much higher.

Legal Boating Requirements

Despite the dangers, there is no such thing as a “boating license.” Boaters must take a state approved course to operate a boat, but that is only if the boater was born after January 1, 1988. The requirement does not apply to boats on private lakes or ponds. Even if someone has not taken the course, they can operate a boat if someone is supervising them who has.

It is a misdemeanor to operate a boat in a reckless manner, with disregard for the safety of others.

Boating Safety and Common Sense

It should go without saying that the primary rule in boat safety, is to ensure that whoever is operating the boat, is familiar with doing so, and comfortable with how a boat operates. Many believe that directing a boat on the open water feels and acts much like driving  car, but this is not the case.

Controls on a boat can be counterintuitive. As boat speed slows, so does the ability to control it. Often, direction is dictated not just by how an operator steers, but by the currents and winds he or she faces. 

Experience also means understanding how to start and stop the engines, how to dock or moor the boat, how to avoid areas that may have currents that are dangerous for the size of the boat, understanding yaw, pitch and roll tendencies, and knowing how to maneuver in narrow channels. Many experienced drivers find these tasks difficult; they can be disastrous for novices.

Having proper equipment on board is also vital. It may seem like having approved life vests and first aid kits on board is common sense, but in fact, many take boats out without this basic equipment (or without knowing how to use it, or if it is even operational). Safety equipment should include lanyard engine cutoff switches, which will cut off the engine if you are in the water to avoid propeller injuries (and the boat from disappearing from your sight).

The boat should always be shut off when people go overboard (accidentally or intentionally). If the boat must go back for someone overboard, operators should never put the boat in reverse, but rather should create some distance, and then turn the boat around so the boat approaches the person in the water from the front, away from the propellers.

Alcohol and Boating

Sadly, it still needs to be said that just like driving a car, you should never operate a boat while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Boating While Intoxicated is a crime just like DUI, even though it does not get as much publicity. In fact, alcohol can have an even more dramatic effect on boaters, as the wind, sun, and elements, can increase the speed of alcohol’s effects.

Fatigue can also play a dangerous role. Make sure that you time your routes to avoid returning to dock when it is late or you are tired. Pre-planning your route can be very helpful.

Be safe when boating on Florida’s waters, but also understand who is liable if you are injured by someone else who negligently operates a boat. If you or someone you know has been injured while on Florida’s waterways, call the injury attorneys of Brill & Rinaldi today for a free consultation to discuss your case.