Types of Negligence That Leads to Clearwater Boating Accidents

April 13, 2023 | Attorney, Matthew Dolman
Types of Negligence That Leads to Clearwater Boating Accidents

The Primary Cause of Many Boating Accidents is Negligence

With around 1,200 miles of coastline and 30,000 lakes covering over 3 million acres, the state of Florida is a popular destination for boating enthusiasts from around the country. Additionally, a significant percentage of the state's commercial activity involves watercraft, including cruise lines, parasailing, and fishing boats.

While a large percentage of injury lawsuits involve car accidents or slip-and-falls, Florida’s waterways and sunshine carry mean a high number of boating accidents. Unfortunately, as with other vehicle accidents, these often cause bodily injury and, occasionally, fatalities.

If you were involved in a boating accident due to someone else’s negligence, you should seek the legal advice of a maritime accident lawyer.

Boating Negligence

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission reports that 1,171 people were injured in boating accidents in just a three-year span.

Just because you get hurt on a boat does not mean that you have a personal injury case or that anyone was negligent. To recover damages, your lawyer must be able to prove that your injury resulted from someone's negligence.

Negligence is the failure to act with reasonable care (often referred to as the duty of care). In a boating accident lawsuit based on negligence, your lawyer will need to prove that someone failed to act with reasonable care. And that, as a result of the negligence, you were injured. This is often one of the most difficult aspects of any personal injury case.

When boating accidents are the result of someone else's negligence, victims are often able to recover for their injuries by filing a Florida personal injury claim. The losses that are often recoverable after a boating accident include medical expenses, lost income, physical and emotional pain and suffering, loss of enjoyment of life, etc.

Boating Laws in Florida

Florida does not require a boating license to operate small watercraft. However, if operating a vessel above ten horsepower, those born after 1988 must have completed an approved boating education course and possess a boating education ID card. As with motor vehicles, the State of Florida prohibits boating under the influence of alcohol. Those under the age of 21 cannot legally operate a vessel with a blood alcohol content (with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.02 or higher. Those over the age of 21 are subject to the same BAC laws as when operating a motor vehicle; 0.08 is the legal limit.

How Clearwater Boating Accidents Occur

Boating accidents can occur for numerous reasons. Some types of vessels are inherently more risky and involve accidents with no elements of negligence. However, negligent or reckless behavior is often an element in boating accidents. Some of the more common forms of negligence that result in accidents and injury are discussed below.

Operator Error  

Operator error is consistently ranked among the most common causes of boating accidents in Florida's waterways. This error includes things like traveling unreasonably fast in congested waters, impaired boating, inadequate training, or distracted boating. For these reasons, you should always treat boating with the same caution as other vehicles; never ride with a person who is impaired by alcohol, don't allow the driver to text or otherwise be distracted, and be sure the person operating the boat is competent to do so.

Defective Vessel Design

A significant number of boating accidents occur because a boat or personal watercraft was defectively designed, manufactured, or marketed. Sometimes, the fact that an accident was the result of a defective vessel is obvious, while in others, the true cause of the accident may require a significant amount of investigation to uncover.

As a result, all boating accidents should be reviewed by an experienced maritime attorney. Some kinds of accidents that may be the result of a defective vessel include the following:

  • Accidents involving capsizing
  • Boats taking on water and becoming stranded or sinking
  • Accidents that are the result of malfunctioning onboard equipment
  • Fuel tank explosions or onboard fire

Rental Company Negligence 

The boat and personal watercraft industry in Florida is prominent and lucrative. They rent out a significant number of boats to people across the state. These companies have a duty to the public to ensure that their vessels are properly maintained and do not pose any unreasonable risk of injury to those who rent them.

Unfortunately, this is not always the case. Every year, a significant number of people are injured in accidents that are the result of negligence on the part of a boat rental company or marina. Just because they own a rental store does not mean they have obeyed all the rules. Be sure to rent from a reputable lender.

Boating Collisions

In a boat collision, both boat operators will usually be at least partly at fault. The relative fault of each party is typically decided on as a percentage by a judge or jury. However, there are certain instances when a person may be completely at-fault, like if the other operator was drunk.

Hitting Another Boat's Wake

Hitting large wakes is common, but less thought about the aspect of boating injuries. When a boat hits a large wake (the waves created by other craft), passengers can be thrown around inside the boat or thrown overboard. The liability in a wake accident will generally depend on the circumstances, such as:

  • the size of the wake
  • the boat's speed
  • the visibility
  • the boat traffic near the accident
  • whether the operator warned the passengers that the boat was approaching a big wake
  • whether the injured person was on a motorboat or a sailboat

The person operating the boat you were on, and the other boat operator, may be responsible for any injuries due to wake. The most common example of wake negligence from the other operator is in a no-wake zone (common in manatee protection zones in Florida).

In this case, any wake violates the boating safety rules, and the operator would be negligent. If the boat was speeding through a crowded area and leaving behind a large wake, the operator might be found negligent for creating too large of a wake for the area.

Hitting a Wave

A wave accident is similar to a wake accident, except that there is no other boat to hold liable. So whether the boat's operator was negligent will generally depend on the circumstances described above.

Collision with a Submerged Object or Land

Even with the best weather and visibility, a boat can still hit a submerged object or land. In Florida, this is common with sandbars, which can be speckled throughout popular waterways. Poor weather and visibility may also be responsible for a boat operator running ashore or crashing into a jetty. The operator's liability for this collision will depend on the circumstances. An example of negligence occurs when a boat operator is speeding through a dense rainstorm without charts or a GPS and runs into a sandbar.

Failure to Have Proper Safety Equipment on Board

Federal and state boating safety laws and regulations require even small pleasure boats to have various kinds of safety equipment on board, such as life jackets for each passenger, navigational lights, flares, a loud whistle, and a fire extinguisher.

While failure to have the proper safety equipment on board will probably not cause an accident, it may cause issues that can be life-threatening or cause injury when it comes to getting rescued. If someone falls overboard, life jackets may save their lives or prevent serious brain injury from near drowning. The lack of proper safety equipment on board could lead to a claim of negligence against the boat's owner.

Of course, there are many other forms of negligence that can cause a boating accident. As a result, it is important for anyone who has been hurt in a Florida boating accident to discuss his or her options with an experienced attorney as soon as possible.

Liable Parties in a Boating Accident

Based on these factors of negligence, determining who is liable in a boating accident can be a complex affair. Some parties that could potentially be liable for a boating accident include:

  • Boat operators or passengers: If the operator of a boat is found to have acted negligently, recklessly, or in violation of boating laws or regulations, they could be held liable for any resulting injuries or damages. Similarly, a passenger could be liable for reckless actions, including interfering with the operator's ability to navigate safely.
  • Boat owners or rental companies: In some cases, the owner or rental company of a boat could be held responsible for an accident. Acts of negligence could include failing to maintain the boat properly, knowingly allowing an unqualified or inexperienced person to operate it, or failing to provide necessary safety equipment.
  • Cruise ship companies: While not all cruise ship accidents involve maritime collisions, such an accident could make the cruise line liable.
  • Manufacturers or sellers: If a boating accident is caused by a defect in the boat, its engine, or its equipment, the manufacturer, or vendor, of the faulty product could be held liable under product liability laws.

Determining liability in a boating accident can be complicated, and a thorough investigation is often needed to establish fault. If you have been involved in a boating accident in Florida, it is essential to consult an experienced attorney who can help you navigate the legal process and protect your rights.

A Dolman Law Group Boating Accidents Lawyer Can Help

Boating accidents can leave victims with serious injuries and medical expenses well into the hundreds of thousands of dollars. In particularly serious cases, the injuries that victims sustain can lead to mental or physical disabilities that may affect them for years or for the rest of their life.

Fortunately, in many instances, Florida law entitles boating accident victims to significant compensation, including medical bills, pain and suffering, and property damages. The Clearwater personal injury attorneys of the Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA, are seasoned personal injury advocates who work tirelessly to ensure that each client we represent obtains the full and fair value of their claim.

We handle claims throughout the greater Tampa–St. Pete–Clearwater area, with multiple locations for your convenience. To schedule a free consultation with one of our lawyers, contact us online or call our Clearwater office today at (866) 497-5086.


Matthew Dolman

Personal Injury Lawyer

This article was written and reviewed by Matthew Dolman. Matt has been a practicing civil trial, personal injury, products liability, and mass tort lawyer since 2004. He has successfully fought for more than 11,000 injured clients and acted as lead counsel in more than 1,000 lawsuits. Always on the cutting edge of personal injury law, Matt is actively engaged in complex legal matters, including Suboxone, AFFF, and Ozempic lawsuits.  Matt is a lifetime member of the Million Dollar Advocates Forum and Multi-Million Dollar Advocates Forum for resolving individual cases in excess of $1 million and $2 million, respectively. He has also been selected by his colleagues as a Florida Superlawyer and as a member of Florida’s Legal Elite on multiple occasions. Further, Matt has been quoted in the media numerous times and is a sought-after speaker on a variety of legal issues and topics.

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