Over the Fourth of July weekend this year, a 32-foot boat and a 36-foot boat collided on Key Biscayne, killing four people and seriously injuring three boaters. While the investigation is still ongoing, there is evidence to suggest that alcohol may have been on board one of the boats. The boating accident, one of the worst to occur in Florida, has once again put the focus on boating safety in Miami and Florida.
The state is already known for its high number of boaters and boating accidents. In 2013 alone, there were 62 boating fatalities in Florida, as well as 420 injuries and 736 boating accidents. Florida authorities say that changing conditions – especially more crowded bays and faster boats – may be contributing to more boating accidents than ever before and say that a serious strategy is needed to curb injuries and deaths.
Drinking and Boating: A Deadly Mix
One of the major contributors to boating accidents in Miami and other Florida communities is alcohol, and several lawmakers are looking for ways to crack down on boating under the influence. Carlos A. Gimenez, the Miami-Dade County mayor, has been looking to create a task force to tackle the issue, for instance. Other lawmakers have been hoping to use some of the same strategies used to curb drunk driving in Miami to curb boating under the influence.
The laws for drinking and boating are similar to DUI laws. Boaters have a limit of a .08 blood alcohol level and boaters under the age of 21 have a .02 limit. However, authorities acknowledge that enforcing drunk driving laws on the water is much harder than it is on highways. There is really no way to set up sobriety checks on rivers and boaters who choose to drink before operating a boat can easily choose one of Florida’s quieter waterways, where the presence of authorities is less likely.
Law Changes for the Boating Industry?
Another challenge may be that Florida in general and the boating industry specifically tend to resist legislation and regulations. In Florida, as in many states, boaters do not need much boating education and no on-water training. Only boaters born after 1988 need to take a boating course at all, and that is a short online program. The rules and limits for boaters have not been updated for years.
According to authorities, lack of training and classes can mean that boaters do not have the skills and knowledge needed to stay safe on the water, especially as boats get larger and faster. Under current regulations, anyone in Florida can buy a large 39-foot boat – a craft large enough to do serious damage and cause fatalities – and operate it on Florida waters with no licensing and no training. Authorities and safety experts would like to see more licensing requirements and educational requirements as well as stricter punishments for those caught boating and drinking.
Most boaters in Florida are responsible and careful on the water. If you are injured by a negligent boater, however, you may have legal options available to you. To find out what those might be, contact Flaxman Law Group, a law firm in South Florida. Our attorneys have more than six decades of combined experience and our legal team would be happy to discuss your legal options with you.