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Watercraft Pose Danger on Florida Waterways

Florida leads the nation with 900,000 registered vessels and an estimated 1 million non-registered watercraft, creating a lot of potential for boating accidents.

Two young children sustained injuries in early May when a personal watercraft hit them as they played in the water near shore at Fred Howard Park in Tarpon Springs, according to a report.

Florida Fish and Wildlife officials said one of the children, a 2-year-old girl, was taken by helicopter to a local hospital where she was listed in stable condition while a 7-year-old was treated at the hospital for minor cuts. Officials said the crash investigation continues and charges could be filed against the watercraft rider.

Boating Accidents Often Lead to Drowning

According to the recently released 2014 Boating Accidents report, Florida had 634 reportable boating accidents last year, resulting in 73 fatalities.

The highest number of accidents occurred in May.

The report shows that the primary cause of boating accident deaths is people falling overboard and drowning. More than a fourth of the accidents were falls overboard. Many of those deaths could have been prevented if people had worn life jackets.

  • 70 percent of deaths were caused by drowning, the leading cause of fatal boating accidents.
  • July was the deadliest month with 17 deaths reported.
  • In 12 percent of fatal accidents, alcohol or drug use was a factor.
  • Males are most likely to be killed in boating accidents. 86 percent of victims, 63, were men.
  • Of the 71 operators involved in deadly incidents, 59 percent were 51 or older.
  • Half of fatal accidents involved vessels 16 feet or less.

Personal watercraft such as the one involved in the recent accident in Tarpon Springs accounted for only 12 percent of Florida’s registered vessels, but those type of crafts were involved in 16 percent of reportable boating accidents, claiming the lives of eight people, according to the report. Half of the personal watercraft involved in accidents were rented.

Nearly half of personal watercraft accidents took place in Monroe, Pinellas and Miami-Dade counties, and 54 percent of the total personal watercraft accidents involved collisions with other vessels.

A breakdown of the boating accidents in Pinellas County shows that operator inexperience was the leading cause of accidents, followed by failure to maintain a proper lookout, recklessness and hull failure.

Balancing safety

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, working with the National Safe Boating Council, Bombardier Recreational Products Inc., West Marine and the U.S. Coast Guard, has a statewide boating safety campaign called “Wear it Florida,” encouraging people to wear life jackets when they are on the water.

A life jacket can prevent a person who falls overboard from drowning, which is the main cause of death on the state’s waterways.

Statistics show most boating accidents involve operators who are middle-aged or older men who have boating experience but never took a safety course.

Commission officers routinely perform boating safety inspections to identify and prevent violations in an effort to save lives.

When boating, it’s important focus on certain simple safety precautions:

  • Pay close attention while operating a boat or watercraft;
  • Wear a life jacket;
  • Keep a proper lookout for other boats and people in the water.

If you or a loved one has been involved in a boating or watercraft accident, contact a Tampa personal injury attorney experienced with watercraft accident cases. You’ll need someone to guide you through the legal process to make sure you receive an award you deserve to cover damage, pain and injuries. Don’t allow someone’s careless boating destroy your life.

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