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July is the Most Dangerous Month for Boating Accidents

According to a 2012 boating accident report, compiled by the Florida Fish & Wild Conservation Commission, Florida continues to lead the nation with the most registered vessels. In 2012, there were a total of 704 reportable boating accidents, with 55 being fatal. Of the top 10 counties for boating accidents, Pinellas ranked third and tied with Palm Beach, just below Miami-Dade and Monroe, with Hillsborough taking the #10 spot. As we enter the peak of summer, the same FWCC report noted that July traditionally sees the highest number of boating accidents and boating fatalities.

Whether you own a vessel, personal watercraft (PWC) such as a jet ski or waverunner, or simply rent one, it is crucial to have basic understanding of boating safety and know the laws and your rights should you be injured.

The injury rate among boating accidents last year was about 55%. The most common injuries include lacerations, broken bones, contusions, and head injuries. What are the primary cases of boating accidents? In Pinellas County, carelessness/inattention accounted for the most common causes for boating accidents, followed by operator inexperience which tied with excessive speed. Of these Pinellas County accidents, the main types of accidents were collision with another vessel and collision with fixed object, such as channel marker, piling, dock, etc. Finally, open motorboats and PWCs were the most common type of vessels involved. These statistics make it crucial that all operators have a basic understanding of vessel operation, vessel safety, and are familiar with the navigational rules.

Boating accidents and injuries on the water are governed by federal maritime law, mixed with state law if the accident occurs within the state’s territorial waters. Maritime law, unlike shore-based law, is peculiar and contains nuances that might surprise many. Florida statutes specifically declare all vessels dangerous instrumentalities (Fla. Stat. 327.32). What does this mean? Well, the operator of a vessel, by law is to exercise the highest degree of care in order to prevent injuries; and the reckless or careless operation of a vessel is confined to the operator in immediate charge. Additionally, liability is NOT imposed on the vessel’s owner unless the owner is the operator or is present in the vessel when the injury or damage occurs. Therefore, if you rent a boat this summer and get into an accident, the livery is NOT vicariously liable…YOU ARE! Unlike motor vehicles where the owner can be held vicariously liable for the actions of the driver, a livery cannot unless it negligently entrusts the vessel to the renter.

Fla. Stat. 327.54 contains the various exceptions in which a livery can be held liable for the actions of the vessel operator. It is important to note that for any vessel exceeding 10 horsepower, the livery MUST provide pre-rental or pre-ride instruction that includes operational characteristics of the vessel, safe vessel operation, the responsibilities of the operator, and local characteristics of the waterways. Additionally, a livery CANNOT rent a vessel powered by more than 10hp to any person born after January 1, 1988 unless such person has in their possession a photo ID AND boater safety identification card.

PWCs are fun, fast, and dangerous. In Pinellas County, PWCs accounted for the second most common type of vessel involved in boating accidents last year. Statewide, PWCs were involved in 19% of all reportable boating accidents, with 45% of those involving collisions with another vessel. Boater education is crucial; 77% of PWC operators indicated they had no such boater education course. The FWCC website contains of list of approved courses, some are even free! https://myfwc.com/boating/safety-education/boating-courses. I personally have a boating safety card and occasionally refresh myself with familiarity of the navigational rules.

As you take to the waterways around Tampa Bay this summer remember the following:

  • Boater education is crucial in preventing accidents
  • Familiarity with the local waterways is a must
  • Liveries (boat rental establishments) are generally  not liable for injuries caused by the negligent operation of a vessel, by the one who actually rented the vessel
  • Liveries MUST provide pre-ride instructions for vessels in excess of 10hp
  • PWCs operate differently than regular motor boats
  • Take a free education course and know the navigational rules
  • Always yield the right of way to sailboats

Finally, if you end up finding yourself injured in a boating accident or know someone that has been, call Sibley Dolman Gipe Accident Injury Lawyers, PA for a free consultation regarding your rights in a maritime personal injury case.

See the full report at https://myfwc.com/media/2586309/2012-BoatingStatistics.pdf.

Stephen Farkas is a Clearwater personal injury attorney who focuses his practice on PIP claims and the representation of individuals who have been injured as a result of an automobile accident, motorcycle accident, truck accident, and other related claims.