Boating Accident Law in Florida

Many people are familiar with the laws pertaining to operating a car and car accidents. They know that they must be sober while operating the car, that they need to obey speed limits, and that they should not leave the scene of an accident before police arrive. Many people, with the exception of boating enthusiasts, may not be aware that similar rules apply on waterways. In order to avoid boating accidents and personal injuries from such accidents, you should become familiar with boating laws.

Recent Boating Accident in Florida

ABC news recently reported on a boating accident in the Florida Keys on June 9, 2013 that injured 9 people.  A 36-foot Carrera boat carrying sixteen passengers collided with a 28-foot vessel carrying two passengers. A dozen people from both vessels were thrown into the water, and the smaller vessel capsized after the collision. Fortunately, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, which was investigating the accident, did not report any deaths. One passenger had to be helicoptered to a hospital and suffered a leg injury and concussion.  Commission Authorities conducted field sobriety tests on the captains of both ships shortly after the accident and found nothing amiss. However, the Commission said that charges could be brought against one or both captains if they violated federal or state boating laws.

Boating Laws in Florida

Boating laws depend on both federal maritime laws and state laws.  Federal law is primary. State law applies where federal law is silent and where state law does not conflict with federal law.  Federal law applies primarily to commercial vessels and to vessels on international waterways.  For recreational vessels, state law often has the most impact.

Florida law has many rules on boating and navigation.  If there is an accident that involves death, disappearance of a person, more than immediate first aid, or damage to the vessel of more than $2000, the accident must be reported to the appropriate authorities. It is unlawful to leave the scene of the boating accident without rendering aid and reporting the accident.

Boat captains have special responsibilities. They can be cited if they recklessly operate the boat or operate it below certain speeds. In a zone labeled as “Idle Speed – No Wake,” the captain must operate at the minimum speed that allows the boat to maintain headway and steerageway. In a zone labeled as “Slow Down – Minimum Wake,” the captain must operate the boat fully off plane and completely settled in the water.  Boat captains must be sober when operating the boat. As with a car, a blood alcohol level greater than .08 is a legal violation.

US Coast Guard requirements set the rules for what equipment the boat must carry. For example, children under six must wear a Coast Guard-approved flotation device while on a vessel less than 26 feet long. Small vessels (under 16 feet) must carry at least three visual distress signals (e.g. flares) to use in case of an emergency.

If you believe that violations of boating laws may have caused you personal injuries, be sure to speak to the experienced personal injury lawyers at Hoffman, Larin & Agnetti today.

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