With Florida's growing population, particularly the Jacksonville metropolitan area and other coastal regions, our waterways are more crowded than ever. In fact, Florida now has over one million registered boats. Florida has the highest number of boating fatalities according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
Meanwhile, the average horsepower and speed of watercraft has increased. As a result, unfortunately, boating accidents in Jacksonville and the surrounding areas are on the rise. Many of these accidents occur at night and involve collisions with docks, other boats, bridges, barges, or channel markers.
Obviously, boats have no brakes and the waterways have no stop signs or traffic lights to guide us. Common sense and knowledge of boating safety rules are a must. However, unlike a car, there is no requirement in Florida that a boat operator born before 1988 have any type of license or take any classes or testing whatsoever. However, anyone born on or after January 1, 1988, must have Boater Safety Education Card, which can be obtained by taking an approved boating safety course.
With the increase of personal watercraft, such as jet skis, jet boats, and seadoos, there is a whole new group of boaters who often have no other boating experience at all. These types of watercraft are capable of incredible speeds and quick turns, and are often involved in accidents with serious injuries. For example, in 2007, personal watercraft accounted for 13 percent of all registered boats in the state, yet they were disproportionately involved in 24 percent of all boating accidents. In the same year, twenty-one percent of fatal boating accidents in Florida involved personal watercraft.
All too often people think that going out on a boat is a good time to get intoxicated. Nothing could be further from the truth. Drunk driving in a boat is every bit, if not more, dangerous than driving a car after drinking. In 2007, twenty-two percent of boating deaths were caused by alcohol or drug use. Florida law prohibits operating a boat while under the influence of alcohol or other drugs. If authorities suspect you may be under the influence while driving a boat, you will have to undergo a sobriety test. If you are 21 or older, you will be considered impaired if your alcohol level is .08 or higher. Anyone under 21 with a breath-alcohol level of just .02 or higher operating a vessel is considered to be under the influence.
Follow these safe boating tips from the Recreational Boating Industry to avoid accidents:
- Check weather conditions before departing. If you notice a sudden drop in temperature, increasing wind gusts or dark clouds, get off the water immediately.
- Make a checklist before you leave. Be prepared for any circumstance that may arise. Make sure you have lifejackets, water, and a first aid kit on board. The majority of drowning victims in boating accidents are found not to be wearing lifejackets. A functioning radio or cell phone is a must.
- Save the drinks for later. The likelihood of a boating accident doubles when alcohol is a factor. Sun and wind can increase the alcohol’s effects.
- Take a safe boating course. Only 10 percent of the 700 boating accident fatalities per year involve drivers who have taken a boating course. Go to www.boatus.org to find a class near you.
There are a complex and overlapping set of laws that apply if a person seeks compensation for injuries from a boating accident. First, federal admiralty and martime laws will apply, if the accident happened in any navigable waters, which includes the majority of Jacksonville’s waterways including: the St. Johns River and its tributaries, the intracoastal waterway and the Atlantic Ocean. Where not inconsistent with federal maritime law, Florida law will apply as well. This can create a complex legal framework with many pitfalls. Because of this, it is important a person hiring an attorney for a boating accident case to hire a law firm with experience in admiralty and maritime claims.
Our admiralty, maritime and boating accident attorneys here in Jacksonville have intimate knowledge of boating safety and our local waterways. Our firm has the experience and resources to conduct an exhaustive investigation of your claim. If you do not receive a fair settlement offer, we stand ready to present your claim to a jury. Contact us today.