It’s no secret that Florida is a great state for boating. Surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico and dotted with lakes and rivers, there are innumerable opportunities for residents and tourists to get out on the water. It isn’t surprising that Florida leads the nation with the highest number of registered recreational vessels — 918,255 as of 2017.
Unfortunately, Florida also tops the nation in the number of boating accidents that occur each year. In 2017, Florida had 723 reportable boating accidents (defined as $2,00 or more worth of damage). In comparison, the state with the second-highest number of accidents, California had 350 crashes — and 745,641 registered boats.
Florida also has the highest number of boating accident fatalities. In 2018, 59 people died in Florida boating accidents, while 67 people died in 2017. In 2018, 307 people were injured in boating accidents in Florida, down from 437 in 2017.
These numbers are startling — and should move us all to action. Most boat accidents are preventable. If we all take precautions, we can make a significant difference in the number of boating accidents occurring in Florida each year.
Top Causes of Florida Boating Accidents
According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission (FWC), the top cause of reportable boating accidents in 2018 was collisions with other vessels. There were 178 of these accidents, which amounted to 28% of the 628 accidents in 2018. 8 people were injured as a result.
After investigation (by the FWC or a local authority), the primary reason for each reportable Florida boat accident was determined. In 2018, the top causes of boating accidents were as follows:
- No proper look-out/inattention: 167
- Machinery failure: 64
- Operator inexperience: 64
- Other: 48
- Excessive speed: 45
- Weather: 41
- Careless/reckless operation: 33
- Alcohol use: 28
- Hazardous water: 17
- Vision obstruction: 14
Most of these accidents — 398 out of 628 — happened while the boat was cruising. 408 of the accidents involved just 1 vessel.
The majority of these accidents happened in a bay or sound (161), followed by a river or creek (115), and then the ocean or gulf (104). Other crashes happened in canals or cuts (96), lakes or ponds (51), inlets or passes (46) and ports or harbors (43).
Most Florida boat accidents (353 out of 628) in 2018 occurred during the afternoon to early evening. 125 crashes happened between 2:00 and 3:59 p.m., and an additional 120 took place between 4:00 and 5:59 p.m. 108 crashes happened between 12:00 and 1:59 p.m.
Staying Safe on the Water
Understanding how Florida boat accidents happen is critical to preventing them. If you look at the list of the reasons why boat accidents occurred in 2018, you’ll note that the most common cause is inattention. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that our number one tip for staying safe on the water is to pay attention while driving a boat.
Not only is operator inattention/no proper look-out the leading cause of boat accidents in Florida, but hitting another vessel is the most common cause of reportable boat collisions. This makes it clear that anyone who is behind the proverbial wheel of a boat must always be vigilant.
Of course, this doesn’t just mean looking out for other boats or even for fixed objects (another common cause of boat accidents). You should also keep an eye out for bad weather or any unsafe conditions. Aim to have an extra set of eyes on the horizon by designating a lookout who can alert the driver to potential hazards.
Mechanical failure is another leading cause of boat crashes. The best way to avoid this type of accident is to stay on top of your boat’s maintenance. While boat upkeep can be expensive, it is cheaper and less dangerous than being in an accident on the open water.
Inexperienced operators are the third leading cause of Florida boat accidents. Knowing how to properly handle a boat is incredibly important, both during regular operation and in emergencies. Check out a list of boater safety courses from the FWC to find a class that is right for you.
In addition, when on the water, you should:
- Maintain a reasonable speed,
particularly when turning
- Avoid alcohol and drugs
- Always wear proper safety equipment
- Pay careful attention to weather reports
By following these tips, you can reduce the likelihood of being in a boating accident.
Recovering for a Florida Boat Accident
When a boat accident happens on a navigable public waterway, the accident may be subject to federal admiralty jurisdiction, which is distinct from Florida law. There are different rules that govern these types of cases, such as a shorter statute of limitations (the period of time that you have to file a claim). For this reason, you should consult with an experienced personal injury attorney in Miami as soon as possible after a boat accident to determine your options.
You Aren’t Alone: We Can Help
Boat accidents can lead to serious or even fatal injuries. While following safety rules can help to reduce the incidence of boat crashes, there are still hundreds of people affected each year. Even something as simple as falling on a wet deck can lead to a brain injury that has devastating, long-term consequences.
The lawyers of Kaire & Heffernan exclusively represent victims in personal injury cases — never insurance companies. We offer free initial consultations, and handle all cases on a contingency fee basis, which means that you pay nothing upfront to retain us. To learn more or to schedule an appointment with an experienced personal injury attorney in Miami contact our office today at 305-372-0123 or online.