Florida Boating Accidents by the Numbers
Boating Accidents (2010-2019 average per year)
Boating Injuries (2010-2019 average per year)
Property Damaged in Boating Accidents (2019)
Sun, Sand, and $16 million in Property Damage
With 18+ million registered motor vehicles and over 400,000 car crashes per year in 2019, Florida roads of some of the most dangerous in the country. Our state also happens to have 1,350 miles of coastline and 961,266 registered watercraft. As such, anyone who drives on Florida roads would not be surprised to learn that there are a high number of boating accidents as well.
South Florida, in particular, is renowned for its pristine coastline and incredible waterways. The area’s open ocean and endless freshwater systems allow boating to play a more important role in life than in most states. Boats not only offer a convenient means of transportation to local Floridians, but they also provide endless recreational possibilities to locals and tourists. Indeed, recreational watercraft are almost as popular among the locals as they are among Florida tourists.
Unfortunately, recreational boaters are often unskilled boaters. In fact, 80% of boat operators who were involved in fatal boating accidents in 2019 had no formal boater education.
Throughout South Florida, people are operating incredibly massive and powerful boats without training or licenses. And all too often they treat what should be a serious responsibility as a game, which results in significant financial, physical, and emotional damages to innocent people.
Moreover, a recent report by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission found three important points:
- 10 counties were responsible for 61% of the reportable boating accidents in Florida in 2019.
- South Florida is over-represented in the top-10 boating accident list, with Broward, Palm Beach, Miami-Dade, and Monroe counties ranked seventh, third, second, and first respectively.
- Broward, Palm Beach, and Miami-Dade counties accounted for $11.1 million (69%) of the total $16.1 million in property damage caused by boating accidents.
With the high number of registered watercraft, the popularity of Florida’s beaches and oceans, and a lack of strict boating laws, when you operate or ride in a boat there is an ever-present risk that you could be injured in an accident.
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Florida Boating Laws
Unlike for cars, trucks, and motorcycles, Florida does not require a boating license to operate watercraft. There are, however, certain age restrictions on the use of personal watercraft, and in 2010 the state statutes were changed to require boat operators born on or after January 1, 1988 to pass an FWC- and NASBLA-approved boater safety course to operate a motorboat with 10 horsepower or more. Additionally, boat operators must have in their possession a Florida Boating Safety Education ID Card and a photo identification card.
Florida tourists must also comply with these boating safety education requirements. Visitors who want to rent a boat while they’re in Florida may obtain a temporary certificate, which are issued by vendors around the state. Otherwise, a Florida boater ID card is not required if you can show proof of having successfully completed a boater safety course or equivalent exam that meets or exceeds Florida’s requirements.
Exemptions to the Boater Safety Requirements
Some people may still be exempt from these statutory boating safety requirements. An abridged list of these exemptions includes:
- A person operating a motorboat under 10 horsepower.
- A person operating a boat on a private lake or pond.
- An operator who is accompanied onboard by 1) a person who is at least 18 years old and possesses the required boater safety ID card or 2) who is exempt from the educational requirements, provided that person is attendant to and responsible for the safe operation of the vessel.
- A person operating a vessel within 90 days after the purchase of that vessel and who has a bill of sale available for inspection aboard that vessel.
- A person operating a vessel within 90 days after completing an approved boating safety course who has a photographic ID and a completion certificate for a boater education course. (The course completion certificate must provide the student’s first and last name, date of birth, and the date the course was successfully completed.)
Pro Tip: Although boat operators are not obligated to have boating licenses, Florida law (F.S. § 327.32) still demands that any operator of a vessel exercise the highest degree of care in order to prevent injuries to others.
Don’t “Drink and Boat”
Perhaps because boats are primarily viewed as recreational crafts, many people wrongly assume that “drinking and driving” laws don’t apply to boats. However, as with any other heavy machine, alcohol and drugs can also impair your ability to operate a boat safely. Florida has strict laws against operating a boat or other watercraft while under the influence.
For adults over the legal drinking age, the same blood alcohol concentration (BAC) limit of .08 applies to boat operators as to drivers. Similar testing and citation laws also apply. In addition, any boat operator under 21 with a BAC of .02 or higher is in violation of Florida law.
One concern that could crop up with boating accidents that seems foreign to many people has to with jurisdiction. When we are dealing with the ocean, there are three levels of governance to keep in mind: state, federal, and international.
These three levels alternate as we move further out from the coast: Florida law governs the waters closest to the shore; Federal law governs the second layer; and beyond that you are in international waters. What’s more, state waters are not consistent all around.
- Atlantic and Keys: State waters on the Atlantic coast or south coast extend out 3 nautical miles (~3.5 miles). Federal rules apply between 3 and 200 nautical miles. Beyond the 200-mile mark, international rules apply.
- Gulf of Mexico: State waters in the Gulf of Mexico extend to 9 nautical miles. Federal waters span from the end of state waters to 200 miles. Beyond the 200-mile mark, international rules apply.
Jurisdictional issues will not affect personal watercraft accidents or accidents involving smaller boats, which will tend to stay closer to shore or operate in lakes or inland waterways. But deep-sea fishing vessels venture further out into open waters and an accident in this instance may fall outside of Florida’s jurisdiction. In fact, in 2019 5% of boating accidents occurred outside of Florida-controlled waters. Therefore, choosing a boating accident lawyer who can identify the correct set of laws and statutes that govern your case and explain your rights is critical.
Florida law further states that boat operators must report accidents with over “$2,000 apparent aggregate damage” to the proper authorities. It can be very difficult to assess damages in these instances, which will include property damages to the boat(s) involved and physical damages to persons on the boats. As such, it’s a good idea to make a report of any boating accident to ensure documentation is clear and complete in case a personal injury claim needs to be made.
Top Three Causes of Boating Accidents and Injuries
“Boat” is often used as a stand in for any number of types of watercraft, ranging from a 9-foot jet ski to a 25-foot Bowrider to a 120-foot luxury yacht. As such, the causes of boating accidents vary widely as do the location in which they occur. Boat accidents happen in shallow and deep water, on or near the docks, in marinas, and anywhere else boats might travel. That being said, when we dive into the data, we do see that there a few factors that cause a high percentage of reportable boating accidents.
Accidents and Operator Error
According to FWC data, inattention is by far the most common cause of boating accidents in South Florida. Operator inexperience and excessive speed come in at numbers two and three. Together, as you can see in the chart below, these three factors account for nearly half of all boating accidents in Florida.
Falling overboard is consistently the leading cause of boating fatalities. Once in the water, victims can be sucked into the propeller, struck by other boats, or smashed into rocks or other objects by the waves.
However, unlike with car accidents and truck crashes, trauma causes only a small percent (19%) of boat accident fatalities. In reality, 66% of boat accident fatalities are actually due to drowning. Moreover, a vast majority of these fatalities may have been preventable insofar as 88% of those who drowned were not wearing life jackets.
Pro Tip: Increased or mandatory boater education may also be a possible remedy. The 2019 FWC report found that 80% of boat operators who were involved in fatal boating accidents had no formal boater education.
Most Common Boat Accident Injuries
Boat operators and passengers rarely wear protective gear or safety restraints when out on the water. This means there is much more opportunity in an accident for bodies to dislodge, jerk, and hit other objects. In fact, most boating accident injuries are caused by slamming into the boat itself.
In South Florida, the majority of boating injuries occur in closed cabin motorboats where occupants have even more occasion to crash into the sides and walls of the boat in an accident. This explains why boat occupants are injured more often than operators in boating accidents. When a boat passenger or operator slams against the interior or side of a boat, certain injuries are more likely:
Contusions, Lacerations, and Cuts
Broken Bones and Fractures
Concussions and Traumatic Brain Injuries
Internal Organ Damage
All of these injuries can be serious, require long hospitalizations, and cost tens of thousands of dollars to treat. If you’ve been the victim of a boating accident here in South Florida, you should seek the help of an experienced boat accident lawyer who can evaluate your case and explain your legal options. Going it alone can jeopardize your case and reduce the amount of damages you can recover.
Assessing Liability and Recovering Damages in Boating Accidents
Florida law (F.S. § 327.32) requires any operator of a boat or watercraft to exercise the highest degree of care in order to prevent injuries to others. If a boat operator disregards or flouts this duty of care, they can be held liable for damages that result from their negligence. To successfully bring a claim for negligence, an injured party must show that the operator failed to operate the boat in a reasonably safe manner and that this failure caused the injury. Common negligent conduct includes:
- Taking the boat out in poor weather conditions,
- Turning the wrong way into a wave and causing the boat to capsize,
- Going too fast to avoid hitting another vessel, or
- Failing to have adequate safety equipment on board.
However, it is not only the boat operator that can be held liable for a boat accident. When assessing fault and liability in a boating accident, you need to consider a range of factors. There may be multiple parties who bear responsibility for your injuries:
- The operator or owner of the boat you were on
- The operator or owner of the boat that hit or collided with your boat
- The manufacturer of the boat, defective flotation devices, or safety equipment
- The owner of the dock or marina
- Anyone responsible for an obstruction in the water
Pro Tip: “Liability waivers” used by many boat rental companies are not iron clad. The enforceability of a given waiver depends on the specific contract language and the circumstances of your case. If you’ve been injured in a boating accident, have your lawyer review the waiver and assess your case.
We have found that many Florida residents are unaware that they can make these rightful claims when they’re involved in boating accidents. They simply don’t realize the extent of the compensation that they are entitled to recover.
Types of Boat Accident Damages
The recoverable damages from a boating accident include both economic (“special”) damages and non-economic (“general”) damages. Punitive damages could also be on the table in extreme cases, but you should talk to a lawyer to discuss that option. These damages include:
Emergency room visits, hospitalizations, surgeries, physical therapy, prescription medications, and assistive devices (e.g. wheelchairs) can all be necessary to help you recover from a serious boating accident. The medical expenses you incur (and are likely to incur in the future) as a result of a boat crash are recoverable damages—including mileage to and from appointments!
There are 80.4 million hourly workers in the U.S. for whom being in a boat accident and receiving medical treatment means fewer working hours and lost wages. Certain injuries can prevent these employees from returning to work while they are recovering. In this case, future lost wages may also be recoverable.
Boats are very expensive machines. Any damaged or destroyed property can be claimed and recovered, including damage to the boat itself, loose items on board, and personalized design features of the boat.
Loss of Capacity of Earn
Some boating accident injuries may result in a long-term absence from work or even a permanent inability to work or to return to a current job. This is known as a loss of “capacity to earn,” and accident victims can be compensated for this loss of future earnings.
Loss of Consortium
Consortium is Latin for “partnership” or “close connection.” These damages are recoverable when the injured party can no longer provide the same love, affection, companionship, parenting, care, or sexual relationship due to their injuries. Spouses and close family members of boating accident victims can be compensated for the loss of consortium.
Pain and Suffering
Florida law allows accident victims to recover damages for “pain, suffering, mental anguish, and inconvenience,” but only if the victim has been permanently injured.
Barriers to Recovering Damages in Boating Accidents
There is one huge roadblock facing boat accident victims that doesn’t apply to car or truck accidents: liability insurance. Florida has mandatory $10,000 minimums for Personal Injury Protection (PIP) and Property Damage Liability (PDL) for motor vehicles. However, liability insurance coverage is only suggested, not required, for boats.
As such, if you are injured in a boat accident, there is no guarantee that you are covered by an insurance policy for your immediate medical expenses. Your only option may be to sue the negligent boat operator for compensation, but there is also no guarantee that they will have the funds needed to cover your expenses.
A qualified Florida boat accident lawyer can investigate what insurance policies are in play, who might be liable, who has the ability to pay, and advise you properly.
Why You Should Hire a Boat Accident Injury Lawyer
If you are here, chances are that you or someone you know has been injured in a boating accident. We are truly sorry that you are going through this, and we sincerely hope that you recover from your injuries and that you can return to your normal life as soon as possible.
We also want to help you make smart decisions about your case so you can choose the right boating accident lawyer and get on the path to full recovery—both physically and financially. The effects of a boat accident can be devastating, and without a dedicated personal injury lawyer on their side, victims often don’t recover the full amount of damages to which they are entitled. When thinking about hiring a Boca Raton lawyer for your boat accident, keep a few points in mind:
Insurance companies see it as their job to avoid paying you
The insurance company’s bag of tricks is ineffective on a legal expert
Your peace of mind is critical for recovery
If you have suffered a boating injury in Boca Raton, you need to seek out an experienced Florida accident and injury attorney who will guide you through the claims process. The insurance company will have attorneys and insurance adjusters on their side to protect their interests—so should you.
The personal injury lawyers here at Personal Injury & Accident Law Center would love to speak to you about your case and tell you how we can help you get on the path to recovery. Call us today at (561)372-3800 to schedule a free case evaluation or fill out the confidential form below and a team member will contact you soon.