In Florida, boating and water sports are both a way of life and a defining state pastime. Florida led the nation in registered vessels in 2014 with a total of almost 900,000, a figure that isn't surprising in light of our state's agreeable weather and abundance of waterways and marinas.
However, Floridians' passion for boating comes with a price: Florida led the nation in both boating accidents and related fatalities every year between 2010 and 2014, according to statistics from the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG). In fact, only California experienced even half as many boating accidents as Florida in any year during this period.
While boating provides enjoyable opportunities for sightseeing, fishing, and swimming, an accident on the water can pose great danger, especially in inclement weather. Florida boaters should familiarize themselves with several guidelines and a number of important resources to help minimize the risk of a boating accident.
Guidelines to Prevent Boating Accidents and Related Fatalities
Boating comes with some inherent dangers, but both the State of Florida and the U.S. Coast Guard provide a wealth of resources that can help boaters reduce their level of risk. Some important guidelines that can help you stay safe and avoid a boating accident or related fatality include:
- Learn and follow the Florida boating handbook. You can access the Official Florida Boater Safety Handbook here. This book outlines many key guidelines, laws, and requirements for Florida boat operators, and provides a great resource for both first-time boating license applicants who need to pass the state's online test and for experienced boaters who want to refresh themselves on certain points.
- Wear a life jacket. Drowning was the primary cause of death in 70 percent of fatalities related to boating accidents in Florida last year, according to statistics from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Florida law requires all vessels to have a wearable USCG-approved personal flotation device onboard for each occupant. The state urges that every person on a boat wear a life jacket at all times; the USCG estimates that life jackets could save the lives of over 80 percent of boating fatality victims each year.
- Get a free Vessel Safety Check. The USCG Auxiliary offers a free on-demand safety inspection called a Vessel Safety Check (VSC) to all U.S. boat owners. You can fill out this online form to have a volunteer examiner contact you for a scheduled inspection at the site of your boat. The examiner will check for problems with life jackets, navigation lights, ventilation, and more.
If your boat doesn't pass the inspection, you won't receive a citation. Instead, USCG personnel will provide a written report on how to correct any issues. Besides the benefits for the safety of your vessel, this can save you money, as the Coast Guard can issue fines if they find these problems during an unsolicited inspection of your boat.
- Avoid boating while intoxicated. Alcohol is involved in about one-third of all fatal boating accidents, according to the USCG. Alcohol intoxication slows reaction time and impairs judgment, effects that are just as dangerous for watercraft operators than motor vehicle drivers.
Florida state restrictions and penalties on boating under the influence (BUI) are no less strict than DUI penalties for motor vehicle operators. A vessel operator suspected of boating under the influence can be asked to submit to sobriety tests and a physical or chemical test to determine blood- or breath-alcohol content. If their blood alcohol level is .08% or higher (.02% for persons under 21), they can be charged with BUI.
- Check the weather report and avoid boating in inclement weather. Weather and hazardous waters together compose the second most common primary factor in U.S. boating accidents (after operator error), according to USCG statistics. To minimize the danger from weather and water conditions, always check the observed and forecasted weather before embarking on a trip.
Before you leave, file a float plan, which can be as simple as letting someone know where you're going and how long you'll be gone. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Weather Radio All Hazards radio network can help keep you abreast of changes in the weather forecast while you keep an eye out for any sudden shifts in conditions from your vessel. Have an escape plan in place in case of a thunderstorm forms quickly, and never let storms cut off your path back to land.
Call the Law Office of Michael Morgan If You've Been Injured
Even the most conscientious and responsible boaters can find themselves involved in an accident when another person engages in negligent behavior. If you've been injured in a boating accident and you believe someone else is at fault, contact the Law Office of Michael Morgan at 941-444-1028 right away for a free confidential consultation. We will thoroughly and promptly investigate your case to deliver an honest assessment. We work on a contingent-fee basis, so there is no cost to you unless we help you receive compensation.
BUI initiatives. (n.d.). U.S. Coast Guard Boating Safety Division. Retrieved from http://www.uscgboating.org/recreational-boaters/boating-under-the-influence.php
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Division of Law Enforcement. (2015). 2014 Boating Accidents Statistical Report. Retrieved from http://myfwc.com/media/3046895/2014-BoatingStatistics.pdf
Life jacket wear/wearing your life jacket. (n.d.). U.S. Coast Guard Boating Safety Division. Retrieved from http://www.uscgboating.org/recreational-boaters/life-jacket-wear-wearing-your-life-jacket.php
Marine hazards and boat safety. (n.d.). Hazardous weather: A Florida guide. Retrieved from http://www.floridadisaster.org/kids/boatSafety.htm
United States Coast Guard. (2015). 2014 recreational boating statistics. (Commandant Publication P16754.28). Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://www.uscgboating.org/library/accident-statistics/Recreational-Boating-Statistics-2014.pdf
Vessel safety checks. (n.d.). United States Coast Guard Auxiliary. Retrieved from http://cgaux.org/vsc/