The recent data from Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission (FWC) should give anyone going out on a boat in Florida something to think about. In 2020, there were 79 deaths arising out of boating accidents. Of the victims who drowned, 88% were not wearing a life jacket. Though the details of every accident weren’t included in the report, it’s safe to say that life jackets could have saved the lives of many boat accident victims.
Joseph M. Maus, an AV rated South Florida attorney specializing in boating accidents, says it’s a no-brainer to wear a life jacket when boating in South Florida. “The waterways of South Florida are no different than its highways – you can be the safest driver around, but you can’t control what some other boat driver is going to do”, Maus says. He said “wearing a life jacket on a boat is the equivalent of wearing a seat belt in a car – everybody should do it.”
Does the Law Require Boat Owners to Provide Life Jackets?
Both Florida and Federal laws require the operator of a boat to have one Coast Guard approved life jacket for every person on the boat. In years past, life jackets were bulky and uncomfortable, causing some people to refuse to wear them. However, recently redesigned life jackets which wrap around a boater’s waist like a belt pack or strap around the shoulders like suspenders, have improved the overall comfort level of wearing a life jacket
Maus also says that a boat operators failure to provide life jackets, or personal flotation devices (PFD’s) as required by the Coast Guard, can subject a boat owner, and operator to liability if one of the passengers goes overboard. The Coast Guard requires:
- Each PFD be in good condition, be the proper size for the intended wearer, and very importantly, be readily accessible;
- Readily accessible means you must be able to put the PFD on in a reasonable amount of time in an emergency (vessel sinking, on fire, etc.);
- PFD’s should not be stowed in plastic bags or in locked or closed compartments, and they should not have other gear stowed on top of them;
- Vessels 16 feet in length or longer must have one Type IV USCG-approved PFD on board and immediately available ( a type IV PFD is one that can be thrown to a person in the water);
- Children under 6 years of age must wear a USCG-approved Type I, II, or III PFD at all times while on any vessel less than 26 feet in length that is underway upon Florida waters;
- Each person on board a PWC, and anyone being towed behind a vessel, must wear a USCG-approved PFD. Inflatable PFDs are not to be worn on PWC’s or while water-skiing.
Though following the law is important, the safety of your boat passengers is what matters most. The FWC developed the “Wear It Florida” to help keep boaters safe. Florida boaters would benefit by reviewing the resources provided by the FWC.
Other Accident Statistics to Keep in Mind on Florida’s Waters
- As, Florida boating accidents continue to increase with 119 more accidents in 2020 as compared with 2019, boat operators need to be mindful of their actions as well as those of other boaters.
- Falls overboard are the most common form of fatal accident, again demonstrating the importance of wearing a life jacket.
- 402 accidents were caused by boat collisions, thus, reminding boat operators and passengers to stay aware of their surroundings.
- Lastly, earlier studies revealed that 67% of boat operators involved in fatal accidents had no boat training. Florida law requires boat operators of 10 horsepower or higher to have safety education, so boaters need to avoid accidents AND the potential of a lawsuit and criminal penalties by completing the required training.