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Boating Accidents: When Good Times Turn Bad

Jeffrey R. Davis

There are more than a million boats registered in Florida. That comes to about one for every 21 people in the state. Accidents are bound to happen with that many jet skis, pleasure crafts, and fishing boats on the water. Some will involve severe injuries caused by negligent operation and crafts too unsafe to be on the water. 

Boating Accidents by the Numbers 

Florida’s Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission states that 735 boating accidents were reported last year, with 65 resulting deaths. The most common accident cause, involving 43%, were improper lookout or attention and operator inexperience.  

According to the US Coast Guard, Florida’s boating accidents in 2022 caused injuries to 448 people. Nationwide, 4,040 boating accidents resulted in 2,222 injuries and 636 deaths. More than half of the accidents were the result of operating errors. The top causes were: 

  1. Operator inattention 
  2. Operator inexperience 
  3. Improper lookout 
  4. Excessive speed 
  5. Alcohol use 

These statistics only cover accidents reported to these agencies. There may be hundreds or thousands more that they’re unaware of. 

How Operator Errors Can Cause Accidents and Injuries 

There are many ways a boat operator can get themselves, their passengers, and others into trouble: 

  • Collision with another boat: Both operators may be at least partly at fault when this happens, so an injured passenger may have legal claims against both people steering these crafts. If the collision involves a sailboat and a motorboat, the motorboat’s operator is more likely to be at fault. Safe boating practices require motorboats to keep clear of sailboats. 
  • Hitting another boat’s wake: If the wake is big enough and the boat is traveling fast enough, the jolt could knock the passengers down or overboard. This is another situation where both boats’ operators may share fault. They’re supposed to constantly be on the lookout for hazards and avoid them, but depending on the location and amount of boat traffic, it may have been negligent by the other operator to cause the wake. 
  • Hitting a wave: This is similar to hitting a wake, but no other boat is involved. 
  • Collision with a submerged object: Depending on the circumstances, the operator may be negligent. If the operator uses a chart of the area and moves slowly, there may not be liability. If they’re traveling at high speed, when visibility is poor, without using charts or a GPS, they’re probably acting negligently 
  • Not having safety equipment onboard: Federal and state boating safety laws and regulations require various safety equipment to be on board. Though failing to do so won’t cause an accident, this mistake may cause injuries or make them worse. Passengers may drown if thrown overboard without life jackets, and a fire may burn uncontrollably if there’s no fire extinguisher 

Laws and regulations put heavy responsibilities on boat operators. If they’re not up to the challenge, they shouldn’t own or operate a boat. 

Multiple Parties May be to Blame 

Though most boating accidents are caused by boat operators, that’s not always the case. The actions of a passenger may be an issue. The boat, or a piece of equipment, may be defective, causing the craft to be unsafe. If negligent maintenance or repair is to blame, other parties may be subject to legal liability. 

Are You or a Family Member Injured in a Boating Accident? 

Jeff Davis represents people severely injured in boating accidents of all kinds, regardless of the type of craft, whether on ocean water or a lake. Contact Jeffrey R. Davis, P.A., to schedule a free consultation so we can discuss what happened, how the law may apply, and what you should do next. We can be reached at (305) 704-7415, or you can use our online contact form

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