This year, hundreds of people will be injured or will die in a boat accident. In 2006, Florida led the nation in boat registrations, with close to one million vessels, all having free access to the State’s 1,540 miles of inland water and more than 1,197 miles of coastal shoreline for fishing and other recreational activities. With the ready availability of Biscayne Bay, Florida Bay and the Florida Keys, the number of boats in South Florida has been steadily increasing.
Statistically, Florida ranks No. 1 nationally for the number of boating accidents and fatalities, numbers which have consistently increased since 2000.
Most boating accident injuries are preventable, as the majority are caused by operator inexperience or inattention. Eighty percent of all boating fatalities occur on water vessels where the operator has not completed a boating safety education course. The primary causes of accidents include:
- Operator inattention
- Careless/reckless operation
- Operator inexperience
- Too many passengers
- Operating at an unsafe speed
- No proper lookout
Boating Accidents and Alcohol
Alcohol consumption accounts for nearly one-third of all recreational boating fatalities, a figure that is increasing. It is estimated that intoxicated boaters are more than 10 times as likely to be killed in a boating accident because of:
- Diminished coordination
- Susceptibility to hypothermia
- Impaired judgment
Florida’s laws against boating while impaired by alcohol or other drugs are as strict as those for driving a vehicle while impaired. Florida law prohibits anyone from boating under the influence (BUI). That is, it is illegal to operate any vessel or to manipulate any water skis, sailboard, or similar device while intoxicated due to alcohol or any combination of alcohol, a controlled substance or drugs. Alcohol and drugs cause impaired balance, blurred vision, poor coordination, impaired judgment, and slower reaction time.
Florida law states that a person is considered to be “under the influence” if he or she has a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08 or higher or is under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs to a degree which impairs his or her normal abilities. A blood alcohol concentration of 0.05 to 0.08 also may indicate a person is “under the influence” if accompanied by other competent evidence.
Florida takes an even stronger stand against underage drinking while operating a vessel. Commonly referred to as the “.02 Law,” those boaters under 21 years of age who are found with a measurable breath alcohol level of 0.02 or higher are subject to receiving a citation with minimum mandatory sentencing. If a person under 21 is above a 0.08 breath alcohol concentration, he or she also can be charged with BUI.
Types of Boat Accidents
In the United States, vessel collisions are the most common type of accident. Eight percent of all boating accidents result in fatalities. More than half of boating accident fatalities occur because of falling overboard, with 70 percent of those victims drowning. Of those drowning, 86 percent did not wear a life jacket. Types of recreational boat accidents include:
- Falling overboard
- Collisions with another vessel or structure
- Sinking, flooding
- Disappearance of vessel or passenger
Boat Accident Prevention
When operating a recreational vessel, steps can be taken to prevent a boat accident injury or to minimize the damage if an accident occurs:
- Always wear life jackets;
- Do not drink alcohol while on the water;
- Always have a working VHF radio on board, preferable a submersible model;
- Know your position – use GPS technologies;
- Have flares on board;
- Have a fully stocked first aid kit on board;
- Have fire extinguishers in an easily accessible location; and
- Make sure someone on land knows your itinerary.
Our South Florida boat accident injury lawyers have over thirty years of experience handling accidents occurring on the water or as a result of a boat or other marine vessel operation. This includes jet ski accidents, parasailing accidents, accidents occurring on cruise ships as well as maritime cases for seamen and longshoremen. Read our FAQ about personal injury or contact us if you or someone you care about is in need of a boat accident lawyer or any other of our practice areas.
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