Every year, boating accidents make headlines in the Jacksonville area as the waters get warmer and people head out for fun on our abundant waterways. Although boating accidents occur less frequently than automobile accidents, they tend to result in more serious injuries. With more than one million registered boats, Florida has the highest number of boating fatalities in the nation according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
Just last month, a 9-year-old boy drowned when he was thrown from a boat into the St. Johns River during a fishing trip near East Palatka in Putnam County. The child and his grandmother’s boyfriend were knocked into the water when their 14-foot jonboat capsized after it was hit by the wake of a larger boat in the river near the U.S. 17 Memorial Bridge.
In 2009, a serious boating accident near Jacksonville left five people dead. The tragedy unfolded when an overcrowded 22-foot Crownline pleasure boat slammed into a moored 25-foot tugboat on the Intracoastal Waterway at Roscoe Boulevard South near Jacksonville Beach. The accident injured nine people, five from the Jacksonville area and four from California.
Personal watercraft, or jet skis, are among the most dangerous vessels. In 2010, a man from Jacksonville lost his life on a jet ski on Kingsley Lake, located about thirty minutes to the southwest of Jacksonville. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission indicated it was dark when Roche was riding and he he crashed the jet ski into another boat. Florida law prohibits the operation of personal watercraft from half an hour after sunset to half an hour before sunrise even if navigational lights are used. In addition, there are age restrictions that apply to PWCs that do not apply to other vessels.
Boating accidents can occur in a number of ways and a mistake can quickly become a disaster on a boat. They include:
• Inexperienced or negligent boat operation;
• Operating a boat under the influence of alcohol or drugs;
• Excess speed, leading to collisions;
• Capsizing or sinking of a boat;
• Being thrown overboard or falling overboard from a vessel;
• Distracted or careless boat driving;
• Gasoline fires or explosions; and
• Overcrowded vessels.
The rules for boating in Florida are established by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission which are intended to prevent the careless and reckless operation of vessels. Anyone found to be operating a boat with “willful disregard for the safety of persons or property” will be cited for reckless operation, a first-degree misdemeanor.
The commission points out all boat operators are responsible for operating their vessels in a “reasonable and prudent manner” with regard for other boats, posted restrictions, the presence of a divers-down flag and other relevant circumstances so as not to endanger people or property.
There are also rules about speed on the water. Any vessel operating in a speed zone that is posted with "Idle Speed - No Wake" must operate at the minimum speed that allows the vessel to maintain headway with the ability to effectively steer the vessel.
Vessels operating in a speed zone posted with "Slow Down - Minimum Wake" are required to operate fully off plane and with the boat's hull settled in the water. The commission states a vessel's wake must not be excessive nor create a hazard to other vessels.