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What Are the Most Common Causes of Boat Accidents in Florida?

By Andrew Pickett Law
Published November 7, 2023

There are many factors that can cause a Florida boat accident. The most common are improper forward watch, collision with a fixed object, inexperienced boat operators, capsizing, alcohol consumption and drug use, man overboard, inattention, reckless operation, carelessness or recklessness, hull failure, collisions with other vessels, machinery failure, equipment failure, occupational behavior, navigation rule violation, dangerous weather and standing or sitting on the gunwale.

Understanding Improper Forward Watch

Improper forward watch refers to the person operating the boat scanning forward to note anything that might potentially cross the boat’s path. If an obstacle is present and the boat hits it, even at slower speeds, disaster can occur such as a passenger being thrown overboard or damage to the boat.

Collisions with Fixed Objects Are Dangerous

When a boat collides with any type of fixed object, it can cause an accident. Even smaller obstacles can lead to the boat going off course or even suffering damage. The boat operator may not be able to regain control. If striking an object causes damage to the boat, it can begin to fill with water, which could ultimately lead to sinking.

How Inexperienced Boat Operators Pose Risks

Anyone who operates a boat has a huge responsibility to keep all passengers on the boat safe. If the operator is inexperienced, it increases the risk of a boating accident occurring and people suffering injuries or even death. Operators are required to know the basic rules of navigating a boat and must also know how to properly react in myriad emergency situations to ensure everyone’s safety.

Understanding Capsizing

Capsizing occurs when a boat turns over or fills with water and flips. This usually happens with smaller boats such as canoes, but people are often more likely to reverse the damage in those vessels. When it affects a larger boat, the situation can be much more devastating. Capsizing often happens when the boat is caught by a sharp wave or turn and the boat’s weight is unevenly shifted. Weather conditions are often to blame for this problem as well.

Boat operators must be alert and at their best to safely maneuver the vessel and keep all passengers safe. Consuming alcohol or drugs can leave a person impaired even if they think they’re perfectly fine. Even being a bit buzzed from drinking a small amount of alcohol or using a small amount of drugs, even those legally prescribed, can compromise a person’s ability to safely and responsibly operate a boat. The operator’s judgment, reaction time, reflexes and ability to control the vessel are lower, which can lead to a deadly boating accident.

What Does Man Overboard Mean?

Understanding the Dangers of Alcohol Consumption and Drug Use

Man overboard refers to a person falling overboard a boat. Although this can happen for a variety of reasons, one of the main ones is a boat accident.

How Inattention Leads to Boat Accidents

Anyone operating a boat must be fully focused at all times. Inattention can lead to a serious boating accident in different ways. It can cause the operator to blindly steer the boat into an obstacle or even a person who happens to be in the water. The boat can crash into another vessel or a structure and suffer severe damage that can cause it to capsize. Passengers on the boat can suffer injuries or be killed.

The Dangers of Reckless Operation

Any type of reckless operation such as speeding, going out on the water when a known storm is occurring or about to and disregarding warnings of other dangerous conditions can raise the risk of a boat accident. Boat operators must be responsible at all times to prevent accidents and protect their passengers.

Careless and Negligent Operation Dangers

When boat operators behave carelessly or negligently, it can result in an accident. Injured passengers have a basis to hold these operators liable for their damages. In the worst boating accidents stemming from carelessness or negligence, a passenger can be killed.

Understanding Hull Failure

A boat’s hull is the part that rides in and atop the water. Unfortunately, certain situations can lead to hull failure and compromise the entire boat. Too much weight is one of the most common reasons this happens. Whatever the circumstances, hull failure is one of the most common reasons for boat accidents.

Accidents Involving Collisions with Other Vessels

Collisions with other vessels rank as some of the most serious boat accidents. Depending on the size and weight of the other vessel, a boat can suffer severe damage or more minor damage. People onboard can sustain injuries ranging in severity as well or even die.

Understanding Machinery Failure

Machinery failure occurs when boats are not properly maintained to ensure that they’re in the right condition and safe to navigate. If any part of a boat’s machinery fails, it can have serious consequences for everyone onboard and on the water. Depending on the specific problem, a boat can crash, sink, be stuck out in the water or even catch fire.

Understanding Equipment Failure

Like machinery failure, equipment failure can cause myriad safety issues for everyone onboard a boat. Flaws or malfunctions can lead to accidents and injuries. Professionals who work in the maritime industry and casual boaters alike can suffer a variety of injuries when equipment fails onboard.

Understanding Occupational Behavior

Various forms of occupational behavior can even lead to boat accidents. While operating a boat or even just being on one, people are expected to act in certain ways to ensure that everyone stays safe. However, certain behaviors such as roughhousing can cause problems and lead to an accident.

Understanding Navigational Rule Violation

Boat operators must follow navigational rules to ensure safe boat trips. However, when a person violates those rules, it poses risks to everyone and can cause a boat accident. The most common navigational rule violations are excessive speeding and failing to maintain a proper lookout.

Dangerous Weather and Boat Accidents

Bating in dangerous weather conditions can easily lead to a boating accident. The water becomes choppy, erratic and unpredictable during storms, which can cause the boat to capsize, collide with an object or structure and suffer damage. It can even sink or become lost at sea.

Dangers of Standing or Sitting on the Gunwale

The gunwale is the upper edge of a boat. Standing or sitting on this part of a boat can be dangerous because it can cause its weight to be thrown off balance, which can lead to an accident. This usually happens with a smaller boat that requires better distribution of weight to stay afloat.

What Are the Different Types of Boating Accidents?

There are many different types of boating accidents. They include collisions, capsizing, groundings, falls overboard, propeller accidents, fire and explosions, sinking, skier collisions, personal watercraft accidents, flooding or swamping, collision with fixed objects, struck-by skeg/prop and vessel wake damage.

Collision Accidents

Collision boating accidents are exactly as they sound; they occur when one boat collides with another. These are dangerous and often deadly situations for occupants aboard either vessel.

Capsizing Accidents

Capsizing accidents occur when a boat overturns or fills with water and sinks. These are scary accidents regardless of the size of the boat that can result in injuries or death, particularly from drowning.

Groundings Accidents

Two types of grounding boating accidents exist: soft and hard grounding. Soft grounding occurs when a boat hits a soft surface or object and doesn’t suffer any ground. These incidents usually don’t result in damage to the boat. However, hard grounding happens when a boat strikes something hard such as rocks or a reef. This can cause major damage to the boat and cause severe injuries or death to those aboard it.

Victims Falling Overboard

Falls overboard is one of the deadliest situations for passengers on boats. It can happen when a boating accident occurs or due to other issues such as intoxication. Falls overboard can also happen when a person is on the wrong part of a smaller boat and their weight is improperly distributed.

Accidents Involving Propellers

Propeller accidents can leave victims severely injured if they come into direct contact with the propeller. Other boating accidents involving this part of a boat stem from mechanical failure, running aground or hitting an obstacle that damages the propeller so that the boat cannot properly operate.

Fire and Explosion Accidents

Boat accidents involving fire or explosions are some of the deadliest. People can suffer catastrophic, permanent and disfiguring injuries or even die. When a boat catches fire or explodes, the damage is devastating. Victims can be thrown from the boat or have no choice but to jump into the water for refuge. Even if they manage to do that without suffering burn injuries, in that situation, there’s a higher risk of drowning if a rescue team cannot get to them fast enough.

Sinking Accidents

A boat can sink when it strikes an object or gets into a collision with another vessel and suffers damage. If too much water fills the interior, it can end up sinking to the bottom of the ocean. This can lead to drowning deaths if the occupants aren’t able to get out with safety equipment.

Accidents with Skiers

Skier collisions can have a twofold effect: the skier can suffer catastrophic injuries and the boat operator can become startled and lose control of the boat, getting into an accident. In some cases, the skier might be at fault, while in others, the boat operator might be to blame.

Damage from Personal Watercraft Accidents

Jet skis and other personal watercraft accidents can lead to severe personal injuries. Operators must be properly trained to safely use these vehicles and must remain alert at all times while using them. Unfortunately, some personal watercraft accidents are unavoidable such as when an unseen obstacle is involved.

Flooding or Swamping Accidents

Flooding or swamping can occur when a boat sets out in choppy waters or during poor weather. Excess water can lead to other problems such as machinery becoming damaged, the boat becoming too heavy and sinking or the operator losing control and colliding with another vessel or object.

Accidents Involving Collisions with Fixed Objects

Collisions with fixed objects can lead to serious boat accidents. Parts of the boat can suffer damage and capsize, become aground or even sink. Depending on the size of the object, the boat’s occupants can also sustain injuries ranging from mild to catastrophic.

Struck By Skeg/Prop Accidents

Boating accidents caused by the vessel being struck by skeg or propellers can also lead to damage, which can compromise the way the boat functions. The boat can go off course and can even end up getting into a secondary accident if the operator loses control of it.

Vessel Wake Damage Accidents

A vessel’s wake is the wave it creates as it moves in the water. The amount of wake varies depending on the speed the boat travels and amount of water. If a boat is traveling too quickly, it can cause a larger wake and put everyone onboard at risk of being thrown overboard. The boat can even capsize if the wake is too high. Either situation can cause serious injuries to anyone on the boat. It can also lead to environmental damage such as shoreline erosion.

What Is The Leading Cause Of Death In Boating Accidents In Florida?

According to data provided by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the primary causes of boating fatalities in the state of Florida in 2022 are as follows:

  1. Other: 16 accidents
  2. Alcohol use: 7 accidents
  3. Weather: 6 accidents
  4. Excessive Speed: 6 accidents
  5. Operator Inexperience: 5 accidents
  6. Operator Inattention: 5 accidents
  7. No Proper Look-Out: 3 accidents
  8. Sharp Turn: 2 accidents
  9. Overloading: 2 accidents
  10. Machinery Failure: 2 accidents
  11. Skier or Occupant: 1 accident
  12. Hull Failure: 1 accident
  13. Hazardous Waters: 1 accident
  14. Failure to Vent: 1 accident
  15. Drug Use: 1 accident
  16. Careless/Inattention: 1 accident

These statistics provide insights into the primary factors contributing to boating fatalities in the state of Florida, highlighting areas where increased attention and safety measures may be necessary. Below is a chart of the various fatalities and causes. The image is courtesy of The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Top States for Boating Fatalities

According to data provided by the U.S. Coast Guard Boating Safety Division, the following are the top states where boating fatalities took place (as of 2021):

  1. Florida: 63 fatalities 1
  2. Texas: 52 fatalities 1
  3. California: 37 fatalities 1
  4. Missouri: 28 fatalities 1
  5. Louisiana: 23 fatalities 1
  6. Wisconsin: 21 fatalities 1
  7. North Carolina: 20 fatalities 1
  8. Tennessee: 20 fatalities 1
  9. Michigan: 18 fatalities 1
  10. Minnesota: 18 fatalities 1

Tips to Prevent Boating Accidents in Florida

There are various tips that can help those in Florida prevent boating accidents. They include obtaining proper education and training, wearing life jackets, checking the weather forecast, conducting regular maintenance, following navigational rules, avoiding alcohol and drugs, being cautious and attentive, filing a float plan, carrying essential safety equipment, practicing responsible behavior, staying on top of the weather, avoiding excessive speeds, following capacity restrictions, knowing the requirements for children onboard and not being afraid to enforce the rules.

Obtaining the Right Training

Obtaining the proper training is crucial in preventing boating accidents. When you’re educated, you’ll understand how to effectively react in any situation to stay safer while operating a boat.

Wearing Life Jackets

Wearing life jackets can prevent drowning if a person is thrown overboard or a boat accident occurs. It can keep you afloat and visible to rescuers.

Checking the Forecast

Checking the weather forecast shows you what to expect with weather conditions and allows you to see whether it’s safe to take your boat out on the water.

Regular Maintenance

Regular boat maintenance keeps your vessel in good condition and ensures that it’s safe to navigate the waters. This also helps lower the risk of accidents.

Following Navigational Rules

Just like the rules of the road must be followed, so should navigational rules for boating. These rules are in place to keep everyone safe and prevent boating accidents.

Avoiding Alcohol and Drugs

Avoiding alcohol and drugs is crucial when you plan to operate a boat. It allows you to remain as sharp and focused as possible to safely maneuver your vessel and avoid an accident.

Remaining Cautious and Attentive

Remaining cautious and attentive at all times makes you a better boat operator and reduces your risk of accidents. This keeps everyone safe while riding on the water.

Filing a Float Plan

Filing a float plan is wise if you’re planning a long navigation on a boat. Make a copy for your local marina and a close friend or family member and include details of your trip, the boat and who’s onboard. This lets others be aware of your plans and whether or when they should take action if you don’t return from your trip on time.

Carrying Essentially Safety Equipment

All boats must include essential safety equipment onboard in the event of an accident or other emergency. It gives those onboard a chance to avoid serious injuries or death.

Practicing Responsible Behavior

Everyone onboard a boat must act responsibly to prevent disaster from happening. Horsing around, fighting and being in the wrong place on the boat should be avoided at all times.

Staying on Top of the Weather

Knowing the weather conditions at all times when planning on taking a boat on the water is crucial. For example, if a storm is expected at a certain hour, the boat should be brought to the dock and moored well in advance so everyone can get to safety.

Avoiding Excessive Speeds

Speeding is one of the main causes of boating accidents. Following the rules and traveling at lower speeds can prevent boating accidents and tragedies.

Following Capacity Restrictions

All boats have capacity and weight restrictions - from Cabin Cruisers to Pontoon Boats, to Yachts. Following those restrictions can prevent boat accidents caused by excessive weight.

Knowing the Requirements for Children

Sometimes, children are passengers onboard boats. There are rules that apply to them, so as a parent, it’s important to ensure that you know those requirements and ensure that your child is under control. Although very young children naturally act in certain ways, it’s up to you to keep them safe and follow the rules.

Enforcing the Rules

If you’re the boat operator, don’t be afraid to enforce the rules. If a passenger acts inappropriately or goes to the wrong area of the boat, be firm and explain why they have to stop or change their attitude or actions. It could prevent an accident from happening.

Understanding Liability for Boating Accidents

A person who suffers injuries in a boating accident due to negligence or recklessness has the right to file a personal injury lawsuit. In this situation, the boat’s owner or operator is usually the liable party.

Damages Recoverable in Fatal Boating Accident Cases

There are various damages available in a fatal boating accident case. If a person is killed due to negligence or recklessness, the victim’s personal representative can file a wrongful death lawsuit against the liable party on the surviving family’s behalf. Recoverable damages include medical expenses, lost wages and lost earning capacity, funeral and burial expenses, pain and suffering, emotional distress, mental anguish, loss of companionship, consortium, guidance and services and potentially, punitive damages.

Understanding Punitive Damages

Punitive damages aren’t given to plaintiffs to make them whole. Instead, they are meant to punish defendants for outrageous or egregious behavior. In a boating accident, this might be awarded as part of a settlement if the boat operator behaved carelessly and recklessly while knowing that their conduct could lead to an accident and death.

Credit: Andrew Pickett Law

The original article could be read here


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