Understanding Boating Accident Liability

Like driving a car, operating a boat requires responsibility and good judgment. Breaking Florida’s boating laws has consequences and boat operators can be found financially responsible for accidents caused by their negligence.

Florida is blessed with more than 8,000 miles of coastline and some 30,000 lakes. The Sunshine State is a boater’s paradise for fishing, skiing, and other activities and Floridians obviously enjoy their time on the water. About 950,000 recreational boats are registered in Florida, the most of any U.S. state.

Boating Accidents on the Rise

Most boating outings are fun times with friends and family, but accidents happen. According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), more accidents occurred in 2020 than any other year in the last decade. There were 837 reportable boating accidents and 79 boating-related fatalities in 2020.

Here in Port Charlotte, we are flanked by counties in the top 10 of boating accidents: Sarasota and Lee counties. Other counties in the list are (alphabetic order):

  • Bay
  • Collier
  • Manatee
  • Miami-Dade
  • Monroe
  • Okaloosa
  • Palm Beach
  • Pinellas

If you are hurt in a boating accident, contact one of our seasoned attorneys at Frolich, Gordon & Beason, P.A. You may be entitled to compensation.

Florida’s Boating Laws

Observing the rules of our waterways will go a long way in keeping you safe while enjoying your boat. There is no minimum age to operate a boat, but a Boater Education I.D. Card (boating license) is required for anyone born after Dec. 31, 1987, who operates a boat with an engine of 10 horsepower or greater. You must be at least 14 years old to operate a personal watercraft, like a jet ski, and have a valid boating license.

Below is a snapshot of other major regulations for operating boats and personal watercraft. Fines for not adhering to boating regulations range from $50 to $1,000, depending on the infraction and whether it is a first-time offense. A comprehensive list of boating regulations can be found on the FWC website.

  • Life Jackets. Children 6 years old and younger must wear a life jacket on any boat that is less than 26 feet in length. While adults do not have to wear life vests at all times, the boat must carry at least one vest per passenger on the boat. Boats over 16 feet in length also must have a throwable flotation device. Those operating a personal watercraft must wear a life vest no matter their age.
  • Boating and Alcohol. Like vehicles, a person is considered under the influence of alcohol when their blood alcohol concentration is 0.08% or higher. Those younger than 21 are considered legally drunk at a blood alcohol level of 0.02%. Boating under the influence, or BUI, is a criminal offense. Offenders are subject to a $500 minimum fine and possible jail time. Repeat offenders face stiffer penalties.
  • Sunrise and Sunset. No one may ski or aquaplane between 30 minutes past sunset and 30 minutes before sunrise. The same time limitations are in place for personal watercraft.
  • Speed Limits. Posted signs for “Idle Speed – No Wake” and “Slow Down – Minimum Wake” must be observed.
  • Boating Accidents. Any boating accident that results in a death or someone disappearing must be reported to FWC, the local county sheriff, and the municipal police department where the accident occurred. An accident report is also required if there is property damage exceeding $2,000.

Who Is Responsible in a Boating Accident?

Anyone recklessly operating a boat can be liable for paying damages caused by an accident. Whether you are injured while on a boat in which you are a passenger or injured by another boat on the water, the boat operator is potentially responsible for paying for your medical bills, lost wages, property damage, emotional distress, and other economic and personal losses. Depending on the circumstances and the cause of the accident, the boat owner (if different from the operator) may be responsible.

Factors Contributing to Accidents

Any number of factors can play a role in a boating accident. Speeding, distracted driving, boating under the influence, not properly maintaining the vessel, and inexperience are among the most common reasons boating accidents happen. While bad weather can be a contributing factor, it does not absolve responsibility, especially if the boat operator is aware of potential bad weather but chooses to get on the water anyway.

Legal Options for Those Injured

How long you have to file a lawsuit depends on where the boating accident occurred. Four years is the statute of limitations for accidents on waterways governed by Florida law. Rivers, lakes, bays, and the Atlantic Ocean waters shared by more than one state are governed by Admiralty Law, which has a three-year statute of limitations. Wrongful death suits have a two-year statute of limitations.

If you have been injured in a boating accident, there are important steps you should take.

  • Call 9-1-1. Get help on the scene as soon as possible, even if you are unsure of the extent of the injuries.
  • Seek Medical Attention. Do not postpone getting medical attention. Doing so minimizes the extent of your injuries.
  • Document the Accident. Photos, video, and witness accounts are important elements to properly document what happened.

If you believe your boating accident is the result of negligent behavior on the part of the operator or owner, the next step you should take is to call on our dedicated lawyers at Frolich, Gordon & Beason, P.A. We offer free consultations to determine the strength of your case.

Call (941) 960-7225 or use our online contact form to schedule an appointment.

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