As I have previously mentioned, I am not a native Floridian. However, I fully recognize and appreciate that many Floridians own and use boats. The proximity to beautiful water, however, comes with the dangers of boating accidents and deaths.
My experience with boating is limited mostly to my childhood. My grandparents owned a large piece of property in rural western Pennsylvania, and I grew up paddle boating on one of their lakes. During the summers, our family would spend time at the “Silver Bullet,” my grandparents’ Airstream camper. (The iconic and now obsolete “Airstream Ranch” on I-4 was always a sweet reminder of those summer memories.) The camper was based at a campground about 100 miles north of their home, and we would often head out on Conneaut Lake on my grandpa’s pontoon boat.
I have fond memories of fishing on the lake with my grandpa. My siblings and I fought over turns to “drive” the boat while on the lap of a responsible adult. An avid reader, I was horrified on one trip when I lost my copy of “The Bears Upstairs” after resting it atop the cooler of food we’d brought on board. Someone opened the cooler, and my book slid in to the lake’s waters, never to be read by me again. (I’m clearly still scarred from the incident three decades ago.)
Something else that I remember vividly about those trips on the boats were the life vests. At the time, I was bothered by the bulk of the bright orange contraption, but it was for safety, and it was a staple. Although my grandparents were experienced boaters, passengers on their boats always wore flotation devices and practiced safe boating practices. If the weather was questionable or the waters choppy, Grandpa would have a bunch of disappointed (but secure) family members crowded around a picnic table at the campground, likely playing Uno.
A pontoon boat on Conneaut Lake is a far cry from some of the vessels on the waters of the Gulf of Mexico, but boating safety is important no matter what type or size of boat you board.
According to 2016 statistics provided by the U.S. Coast Guard, July is when the most boating accidents occur. There are more registered boaters in Florida than any other state, and consequently, Florida leads the nation in accidents by state. The primary contributing factors of these accidents are operator inattention and operator inexperience.
Navigating the water is just as critical and complex as navigating roadways. Safe boating education is key, and distracted boating should be avoided at all costs. Being alert to potential dangers around you could be lifesaving, whether you’re boating on the Manatee River or out in Sarasota Bay.
Here are some other tips:
- Check out the weather forecast before you go and pay attention to changes in winds, temperature and cloud color while out on the water.
- Make sure someone else on the boat is familiar with all aspects of your boat’s operations as well as general boating safety.
- Have a float plan and share it – with either someone at your local marina or a member of your family. This record of your vessel, onboard signal equipment, itinerary and passenger names and contact info is important in cases of emergency.
- Learn how to swim, regardless of your age. (In addition to safety, it has proven health benefits!) If you are in need of swimming skills, contact the American Red Cross for a list of classes.
- Wear properly fitted life jackets. Everyone on your vessel should have – and wear – a life jacket.
- Avoid alcohol, the effects of which are amplified by sun and wind.
- Have a courtesy vessel check performed by the U.S. Coast Guard.
If you or someone you know has been injured in a boating accident, contact Luhrsen Goldberg at 941-212-2600 for a free consultation. Our attorneys are based in Lakewood Ranch and have 25 years of experience. They have established a reputation as skilled and trustworthy advocates for personal injury victims.