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New Report Reveals that Boating Accidents Have Surged in Florida

Last month, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission released its 2020 Boating Accident Statistical Report, which revealed several alarming statistics about the safety of boating in Florida’s waterways.

According to the report, there were 79 fatalities caused by boating accidents in 2020—the highest number since 2011 and a 16% increase from 2019. Considering that the number of registered vessels in the state has increased greatly in the past few years (and the estimated one million non-registered vessels are believed to be on the rise as well), experts fear that accidents and fatalities will continue to become more prevalent. Here are a few other noteworthy statistics found in the report:

  • There were 985,005 registered vessels in Florida in 2020—the highest number in the U.S. and an increase of more than 50,000 since 2016.
  • There were 836 reportable boating accidents on the state’s waterways in 2020—a 26% increase from 2019.
  • Drowning was the leading cause of death in fatal boating accidents; of these victims, 73% were not wearing a personal flotation device.
  • 69% of operators involved in fatal accidents had no formal boater education.

Formal training on safe boating practices is believed to be one of the most effective ways to reduce accidents. In fact, since 2010, Florida has required operators born on or after January 1, 1988, to take an approved safe boating course and obtain a boater’s identification card. In addition to proper education, the following best practices can help ensure a safe time on the water:

  • Never operate a boat while under the influence. Just like with cars, it’s crucial to designate a sober “driver” when boating. Not only is BUI extremely dangerous (it’s linked to more than 20% of all boating deaths), but it’s also illegal.
  • Verify that your boat is equipped with all required lifesaving equipment, such as a lifejacket for each person on board, a fire extinguisher, proper navigational lights, and a sound-producing device like a bell or horn.
  • Use a kill switch. In April 2021, a new federal law took effect requiring vessels under 26 feet long to have engine kill switches, which are designed to prevent runaway boat incidents. Many deaths and serious injuries have occurred when the operator falls overboard but the boat remains in gear, which may lead to the boat running over the operator or anyone else in the water. Kill switches consist of either a cord that attaches to the boat operator or a wireless fob that the operator carries and a mechanism that automatically shuts off the engine in the event that the operator falls out of the boat. Most vessels already have kill switch systems installed, so the new law simply requires operators to use them.

As Florida’s waterways become more and more crowded with recreational boats, it’s increasingly important to take steps to prevent accidents—and to know what to do in the event that you or a loved one is injured. With decades of experience in Florida personal injury law, the team at Leighton Law has obtained numerous substantial verdicts on behalf of boating accident victims, and we stay up to date on the latest news and legal changes affecting those who enjoy recreational boating in our beautiful state. We have represented victims of the worst boating crash in Biscayne Bay history, as well as many other boating, jet ski, parasailing, scuba and water sports tragedies. Call us today at 888.988.1774 to schedule a consultation.

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