While the press devotes significant time and discussion to auto accidents and the driving behaviors which cause them, there is much less discussion about the behaviors which cause boating accidents. Boats, too, can cause serious injuries during collisions and even explosions. Florida is widely known to have the highest number of injurious and fatal boating accidents in the country.
The latest annual report from the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) reveals there were 714 reportable boating accidents in 2016, with 56 resulting in deaths (a total of 67 fatalities were reported). Additionally, there were 421 injuries reported during that time.
The leading cause of death in Florida boating accidents was drowning, mostly owing to falls overboard.
Effective boating safety habits have been proven to significantly reduce the risk of boating accidents, injuries and deaths.
Personal Responsibility for Boating Behavior
Much like car and truck drivers, boaters can reduce the risk of injury and death by being aware of the risks they face, and accepting personal responsibility for establishing safe boating habits.
- The U.S. Coast Guard reports that, in 2016, alcohol was the leading factor which contributed to fatal boating accidents.
- Regular maintenance and inspection of a boat and its equipment can reduce the risk of experiencing a mechanical failure while out on the water.
- As the FWC report noted, with a huge percentage of fatal boating accidents in Florida attributed to drownings. By monitoring all passengers at all times and having the proper safety equipment to respond to such an emergency, boaters can reduce this risk considerably.
- The risk of injury is also increased at wakes, where water skiers, wake boarders and their towable equipment are often found. Safe boating habits demand that boat operators reduce speed and use particular caution when crossing a wake.
Boat Operators' Liability for Boating Accidents
Federal law requires that a boat owner or operator must file a recreational boating accident report with the U.S. Coast Guard in three circumstances:
- When a person involved in the accident died.
- When a person involved in the accident required treatment beyond first aid.
- When a person involved in the accident disappeared.
- When the property damage caused by the accident is $2000 or more.
- When any boat involved in the accident was a total loss.
Both federal law and state laws can apply to boating accident cases, depending on where the accident occurred. Accidents which are covered by state laws are subject to state negligence statutes. In such an event, it falls to plaintiff to prove that the boat operator did not act with due care in responding to the cause of the accident.
The liability for the accident may also be apportioned between more than one boat operator, depending on the comparative negligence statutes of the applicable state law. Florida operates under a pure comparative negligence system per F.S. 768.81, whereby each responsible party is assigned a percentage of liability. He or she is only responsible for paying that percent of the plaintiff's damages.
The Many Causes of Boating Accidents
Boating accidents are rarely the result of one single cause. More often they are a combination of equipment failure, human error, bad boating habits, or all of the above. An experienced West Palm Beach boating accident lawyer will identify all causes of the accident and potential sources of liability. Ultimately, boaters can reduce their risk of being injured in a boating accident by practicing good boating safety habits any time they are on the water.