Although boating is a popular year-round pastime in Florida, summer brings even greater opportunity to local residents and tourists when it comes to enjoying the open waters and Florida’s thousands of miles of coastline and numerous lakes. However, boating is also a dangerous activity year-round, and especially so in the summer months when waterways see a significant spike in congestion. Unfortunately, that means this time of year is also one of the more dangerous periods for recreational boaters.

As statistics make clear, Florida is consistently ranked atop the nation when it comes to boating accidents. In fact, data from the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation shows just how serious the problem has become:

  • In 2017, there were 766 reported boating accidents throughout Florida. That’s a 7% increase over the 714 accidents reported in 2016.
  • There were 61 fatal boating accidents in 2017, resulting in 67 fatalities.
  • Florida leads the nation in boating accidents and boating-related deaths. In 2016, for example, Florida saw nearly 300 more boat accidents than California, which ranked second on the list with 384 reported accidents.

Because the numbers are so extreme when compared to other states, Florida officials are intent on reducing the number of preventable boating accidents this year. This is the case during the summer months, when more inexperienced, unqualified, and intoxicated boaters hit the water, and during the month of July, which is the deadliest month for boating accidents.

For these reasons, law enforcement agencies devote additional resources to police the waters during the summer, and particularly during holidays like Memorial Day, the Fourth of July, and Labor Day. The concerning numbers are also prompting some people to call for changes to state law that would require better certification criteria for boat operators, similar to driver’s license testing of individuals who operate motor vehicles.

Boating Safety: Protect Yourself & Others

While there may be increased efforts and proposed legislative changes intended to reduce the high rates of boating accidents in Florida, the fact remains that boat operators have a tremendous impact on safety. That’s because statistics show most boating accidents are preventable, and that they could and should have been avoided if not for negligence. This being the case, our legal team at Clark, Fountain, La Vista, Prather, Keen & Littky-Rubin wants to touch on a few important ways you can do your part to reduce risks and stay safe when boating:

  • Pay Attention – The FWC cites boat operator inattention as the leading cause of boating accidents statewide. Vigilance behind the wheel is just as, if not more, important when boating as compared to driving due to the prevalence of inexperienced boaters, especially during holidays and the summer, the lack of clear pathways on waterways, an increased potential for overseeing people or objects in the water, and risks associated with falling overboard. As such, experts advise that boat operators should always be aware of their surrounding when boating, avoid distractions like cell phones or conversations with passengers, and keep an eye out for any people or objects nearby. The U.S. Coast Guard also recommends having a passenger or two help keep a lookout and use appropriate warning flags, especially when participating in water sports.
  • Always Boat Sober – Because boating is considered a recreational activity that’s popular during summer and holidays, there are increased risks of accidents caused by intoxicated and impaired boat operators. In fact, boating under the influence is a major factor in fatal boating wrecks. If you’re boating, make it a point to do so responsibly and designate an experienced operator who stays sober. It can save a life.
  • Educate Yourself – Inexperience is a major cause of preventable boating accidents, both as they relate to operating boats themselves, and knowing how to appropriately navigate local waterways. While some boaters believe they may be able to learn how to operate a boat “on the fly,” the truth is that inexperience can have devastating consequences. In fact, the FWC reports that nearly 70% of boating accidents involved operators with no formal boater education. If you’re new to boating or intend to go with someone who is, make sure they take the time to educate themselves about safe boat operation. There are also programs and courses that may be available in your local area, in addition to completing an FWC Boating Safety Education ID Card program.
  • Watch Your Speed – Many people enjoy boating for the thrill of traveling the open water and the feeling of high speeds. However, excessive speed is a factor in roughly half of all boating accidents in Florida, according to the FWC. Be sure you are always obeying the rules and traveling as a safe speed when boating, and especially when near other boaters, people in the water, or close to shore or docks. Reducing your speed for the given conditions is critical to reducing risks of accidents.
  • Be Careful During Holidays and in Congested Waters – If you are one of the many Americans who enjoys the holiday season by spending time on your boat, be aware that congested waters are a major factor in preventable boating accidents. Even if you follow the rules, others around you may not, so increased vigilance is vital. That’s especially true during holidays like Memorial Day, Fourth of July, and Labor Day, which see some of the highest numbers of boating accidents of any days throughout the year.
  • Take Care of Your Boat and Equipment – Safe boating has a lot to do with ensuring the proper working condition of your vessel, safety gear, and any boating or water sports equipment you may be using. Prior to hitting the water, be sure to have all your gear and your boat thoroughly inspected to ensure they don’t pose unintended risks.

Boating is a privilege and form of recreation everyone can to enjoy, and doing so as safely as possible can ensure you enjoy your time on the water without risking preventable accidents that could have major consequences. As a West Palm Beach personal injury law firm which serves clients throughout the state, our team at Clark, Fountain, La Vista, Prather, Keen & Littky-Rubin knows boating accidents can and do happen frequently, and that they are more often than not preventable. As such, we’re available to help residents throughout the state protect their rights following boating accidents that result in serious injuries or death, and have the experience, resources, and committed drive to help them through these difficult times.

If you wish to discuss a boating accident case anywhere in South Florida or throughout the state, please do not hesitate to contact us for a free case evaluation.