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Troubled Waters

With more than 3 million acres of lakes and 8,000 miles of coastline, Florida is well suited for spending time on the water. Recreational boating is great for bonding with family and friends and offers the opportunity to participate in many activities, such as water skiing, fishing, snorkeling, swimming, sightseeing, sunbathing, tubing or just plain old relaxing. There were over 896,600 vessels registered in Florida in 2013, ready to cruise our waters. Here in Miami, we are surrounded by many magnificent choices, including the remarkable Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway, lush Biscayne Bay and the vast Atlantic Ocean.

A Bigger Problem Than You Think

Although boating is a very enjoyable pastime, it can also be an extremely dangerous one. The U.S. Coast Guard has released its 2013 Recreational Boating Statistics, revealing that there were 4,062 boating accidents that year, resulting in 560 deaths, 22 of which were children under the age of 13. These accidents also caused 2,620 injuries and cost property damage of approximately $39 million. Of the vessels involved, almost half were open motorboats, followed by personal watercraft, cabin motorboats, canoes/kayaks and pontoon boats.

Who Is At-Risk?

In more than three-fourths of the fatal boating accidents referenced in the report, the cause of death was drowning. Of those victims, 84 percent were not wearing a life jacket. Eight out of every ten boaters who drowned were using a vessel that was less than 21 feet long. The primary type of accident was collision with another recreational vessel (947 accidents). Rounding out the top accident causes were flooding/swamping (430), collision with a fixed object (427), grounding (399) and skier mishap (332).

Most Common Causes of Boating Injuries

Boating accidents are very similar to car accidents in that operator carelessness or recklessness is usually the cause of most accidents and fatalities. Data in the 2013 report was on par with previous years showing that the top ten contributing factors to boating accidents include operator inattention, improper lookout, operator inexperience, excessive speed, alcohol and violating navigation rules.

Unfortunately, many people believe that alcohol must be present in order to have fun on the open water. They choose to overlook the fact that operator intoxication laws apply to boats, not just cars, trucks and motorcycles. With no painted lane lines or true traffic direction on the waterways, boating under the influence (BUI) can further confuse an already ambiguous situation. Moreover, an intoxicated boater is far less likely to see or be able to react appropriately to a boat in front of them and may not even be aware that they have struck an object, run aground or even lost a passenger. The swimming skills of an inebriated boat operator are also impaired, jeopardizing their chances of getting to safety if they accidentally end up in the water. It is a violation of Florida law to operate a vessel while impaired by alcohol or other drugs. A BUI arrest can occur when either a boat operator’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is .08 percent or higher or a law enforcement officer suspects that the operator’s normal faculties are impaired due to intoxication or drug impairment.

Florida's Most Dangerous Waters

According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, 67 percent of the reportable boating accidents during 2013 occurred in just 11 of the state’s 67 counties. Which county had the most? Our own Miami-Dade, with 30 fatal accidents, 192 accidents with injury and 273 accidents without injury. Last year saw the high-profile Fourth of July tragedy involving three boats in Biscayne Bay and 22 people, four of whom died while three were critically injured. And just last month, well-known nightclub promoter Michal Capponi and his girlfriend were seriously injured after their boat hit a seawall in the bay.

Whether you’re heading out to snag the catch of the day or bask in the sun, consider following these safety tips to help ensure you and your passengers make back to land:

  • Wear a life jacket.
  • Obey the posted speed limits and wake warnings.
  • Do not operate your watercraft on unauthorized waterways.
  • Never consume alcohol while operating a vessel.
  • Bring along extra items such as water, flashlights, maps and a cell phone or radio.
  • Stock safety equipment such as a first-aid kit, a fire extinguisher and an emergency position indicating radiobeacon (EPIRB) or a visual distress signal.
  • Always stay alert for danger by scanning in all directions.
  • Wear your kill-switch lanyard.
  • Make sure your passengers can operate your boat in case you need help.

If you are trying to put your life back together after a boat accident or have more questions about this topic, trust your case to the attorneys at Stabinski & Funt, P.A. For 45 years, we have helped people understand their rights under the law. Contact us by calling (305) 964-8644 or filling out a free case evaluation form.

DISCLAIMER: Any information about past verdicts and settlements is based on the unique facts of each case. Every case is different, and future cases may not achieve the same or similar results. These amounts reflect the gross recovery (before attorneys’ fees and expenses are deducted).

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