We all know distracted drivers pose a serious threat on South Florida roads, but did you know distracted boating is also a significant and growing problem that sharply increases the risk of boating incidents?
A recent analysis of Florida boating incident statistics by Treasure Coast Newspapers revealed that operator inattention was by far the No. 1 cause of South Florida boating incidents – exceeding other factors like speeding, weather, failed mechanics, hazardous water and alcohol use combined. Nationally, operator inattention and improper lookout have accounted for nearly a quarter of all boating incidents over the last five years.
Distractions that Lead to Florida Boating Incidents
So what else has captured the attention of so many Florida boaters? Smartphones, mostly. Texting while boating has rapidly become a top concern of state and federal boating safety officials. The assistant director of boating safety for the BoatUS Foundation was quoted as saying, “If you’re texting from the helm, you’re likely not helming the boat.”
Our Key West boating accident attorneys note too that unlike cars traveling on a highway, boats have the potential to approach from all directions. They come in widely varying sizes and move at different rates of speed. Boat operators must be paying close attention at all times, especially when waves, wind, sun glare and vibration are factors too.
Other types of boating distractions can include eating and drinking, interacting with passengers, reading (this includes maps) or adjusting electronics or stereo equipment.
Just a few seconds of inattention at the wrong moment can lead to serious personal injuries and even death. Boats can collide with other crafts, but there is also the potential to capsize if the operator fails to observe a large wave or wake.
Florida Boating Incident Statistics
Safe boating is a choice, but one far too many boaters disregard.
The Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) reports Florida has by far more boating incidents than anywhere in the U.S. – 766 total in a single recent year. We also have more registered vessels – more than 918,000 – than any other state. Officials recorded fifty-nine (59) boating incident deaths in Florida in 2018. Counties with the highest number of boating incidents include Broward, Collier, Hillsborough, Lee, Miami-Dade, Monroe, Palm Beach, Pinellas, Sarasota, and Volusia. Monroe was No. 1, with 82 reportable boating incidents in 2018.
In 167 boating incidents that year, no proper lookout/inattention was assessed to be the primary cause. Meanwhile, the No. 2 primary assessed cause, machinery failure, was cited in sixty-four (64) boating incidents.
In one example offered by the FWC (which investigates 9 out of 10 Florida boating accidents), a 71-year-old operator became distracted as he showed an occupant where to put a drinking cup on the console of the vessel. When he looked up again, he realized the boat was headed for the shoreline. He did not have enough time to correct the speed or direction of the boat, which collided with the tree line along the Little Saint Marks River. Both occupants were ejected, killing the operator and seriously injuring the passenger.
Bear in mind that just because you are not distracted while boating does not mean others are not. That is why it is especially imperative to stay focused and in control so you can be prepared for a quick reaction in the event that someone else makes a dangerous move because they were not paying attention.
If you are injured in a South Florida boating incident, contact our injury attorneys at The Garvin Firm at 800.977.7017 for a free initial consultation.
Distracted Boating Poses Safety Risks, May 3, 2018, By John Page Williams, Boating Magazine
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