Boat Injuries and Crashes in Florida
Florida leads the nation in two categories related to boating. Florida has the highest number of registered boats of any state, 1, 013, 211, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (known as “FWC”) the agency which patrols the coastal and inland waters of Florida. Florida also lead the U.S. in total number of reportable injury accidents: data showed 804 reportable accidents and this was well ahead of California at 493 and Texas at 281according to FWC’s Boating Accident Review is 2020. For 2021 Florida still had 751 reportable boating accidents—which still would have been well in excess of the available California and Texas 2020 numbers.
Why Is Florida So Dangerous for Boating?
We the maritime specialist attorneys at www.888BOATLAW.com law firm can tell you that the laws in the State of Florida allow inexperienced operators to operate power boats which have the ability to travel at very fast speeds. The law in the State of Florida is that if a person was born before January 1, 1988 then they are not required to do anything in order to operate a vessel amongst the over 1 million recreational vessels registered in Florida. For those people Florida does require
- Any written test.
- Any eye examination.
- Any driving test.
Also, Florida has boat rental businesses whose income is derived from renting vessels to the public. This means rentals to tourists, as well as to Florida residents, and neither of which are legally required under Florida law to show their proficiency before renting a vessel from the boat rental business. Those rental boats also interact with the other 1 million recreational vessels in the State of Florida. If the prospective renter was born before 1988 that is the single qualification required by the State of Florida. Some of these rental boats are capable of speeds of 50 mph or more. Obviously since age is the single qualifying factor, some of the boat renters will have very little or perhaps no experience at all operating the rental power boat they are being allowed to drive under Florida law.
Inexperienced boat operators are not just dangerous to the other boaters on the water, they are also dangerous to the passengers within their own vessel. For clarification, inexperienced boaters do not just rent power boats, there is also no restriction on an inexperienced boater buying and then operating their own new vessel. Again, the only qualification is that the person be born before 1988. And for those born after 1988 (i.e., under the age of 34), they have to complete a boater safety course—which can be completed quickly online. Therefore, the born-after-1988 vessel operator does not have to complete an eye examination or submit to any kind of driving test either. It is therefore not surprising that Florida would year in and year out lead the nation in boating accidents.
The Boating Injury Accident and Crash Numbers Show
What the Florida boating accident injury numbers show is, of the reported 2021 serious boating injuries they are specified as follows
One type of boating accident that is buried in this data is “wake” cases. Wake cases occur when the driver of a vessel strikes an oncoming wave or wake at a high rate of speed and usually at an improper angle. This will cause the passengers—especially those sitting forward on the vessel—to be launched into the air and come down just as the second wave is causing the vessel to come up. At www.888BOATLAW.com we have handled many of these cases. The wake cases typically involve back and neck injuries, and sometimes result in broken bones. The numbers above are undoubtedly not reflective of the number of these “wake” cases. It is extremely likely—in our experience—that wake cases and the injuries caused by them are under-reported. In many of the wake cases we have handled the captain never contacted FWC or any law enforcement agency. For many of our clients after suffering a boating wake injury they only come to realize the severity of the injury in the days after the incident. While the FWC accident statistics do have categories for neck, back, spine, because of the prevalence of wake cases we have handled it informs us that this type of boating injury case is under-reported.
Boat Propeller Accident Injuries
One other very disturbing number from the FWC statistics is the number of injuries caused by boat propellers. For 2021 FWC indicates 30 of them. At the time of this writing our maritime law firm at www.888BOATLAW.com has several of these cases. These cases most often occur in one of three ways. The operator strikes a swimmer, snorkeler or diver; a passenger falls from the vessel as it is in operation and is struck by the propeller, or a passenger sustains injury from the propeller while trying to exit or re-enter the vessel.
Safety guards over propellers are not required by Florida law or by federal law. A push was made to make propeller guards mandatory—with pushback from the boat manufacturing community—but the USCG concluded that the guards would not prevent serious injury where a person would be struck by a boat motor even with the guards. That conclusion is questionable, but as the law stands today propeller guards are not required on recreational vessels regardless of whether it is an outboard, inboard/outboard, or inboard configured motor.
Like many of the other boating injury cases, these boat propeller injury cases are completely avoidable and almost always involve the vessel operator’s error. Even where a passenger goes overboard the responsibility of the captain of the vessel is to assure that all of his/her passengers are in a position they will not go overboard and that the captain will operate the vessel in a safe manner to make sure that the passengers will not go overboard. Likewise, when a vessel operator strikes a diver, swimmer, skier or snorkeler, from our experience it is almost always due to the vessel operator failing to keep a proper lookout and travelling at an excessive rate of speed under the circumstances.
Of the remaining boating injury categories listed by Florida FWC they note 222 injuries relate to impact with another vessel—that is collisions with other boats, Jet Skis, sailboats, canoes, kayaks, etc. 90 injury cases from the operator striking a fixed object. In this regard we see operators striking channel markers, docks, sandbars—this one is very common and often results in ejections from the vessel– and jetties. FWC also notes 48 instances of persons being struck by boats. Once again, this is usually as a result of vessel operators not paying attention.
The bottom line is that Florida has over 1 million recreational vessels. Florida law does not require minimal proficiency nor any driver’s test for a person with no boating experience to take the helm of a vessel that can travel at high speeds. Many of the inexperienced operators do not fully appreciate that a recreational power vessel—once it is out amongst the other vessels on the water in the waves and wakes—does not closely behave like a vehicle on the road. There is no replacement for experience in driving a boat before being in charge of the safety of passengers. Florida requires none.
We are maritime attorneys and have been successfully representing injured boating clients for more than 25 years in Tampa Bay and throughout all of Florida. This is our specialty, not a sideline. Presently we have cases in every part of Florida, including in the Florida Keys, Miami, Ft. Myers, Pensacola, the extended Tampa Bay area, Sarasota, Ft. Lauderdale, the Treasure Coast, Broward County, etc. We are boating accident attorneys and handle boating accident cases every single day. Do not hire a pretender attorney who may get one boating case once every 5 or 10 years. Auto accident attorneys refer their boating accident cases to us—and for good reason—because this is what we do.
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