The recent death of 17-year-old Lucy Fernandez in a boating accident in the Florida Keys is casting the spotlight on boating safety and the prevalence of boating crashes. According to news reports, Fernandez died from her injuries after a 29-foot Robalo boat she was traveling struck a channel marker in the Upper Keys.
Those on board were sent flying into the water. Three other teens were also airlifted from the scene after suffering severe injuries. The driver of the boat, identified as George Ignacio Pino, 52, his wife, and their daughter also sustained injuries. There were 14 people on board. Alcohol is not believed to have been a factor in this crash.
A surge in Boating Accidents
According to the U.S. Coast Guard’s 2020 Boating Safety Statistics Report, boating accidents were up 26.3%, and boating fatalities were up 25.1% nationwide in 2020 compared to 2019. From 2019 to 2020, the total number of accidents increased from 4,168 to 5,265, and the number of boating fatalities increased from 613 to 767. In California, boating accidents also increased from 324 in 2019 to 493 in 2020. The number of boating deaths in California was 39 in 2020, the same as in 2019.
Officials said this increase in boating accidents coincided with a “boating boom” fueled by the coronavirus pandemic. There is evidence that boating activity surged during the pandemic. Boat sales shot up, and with increased exposure and more boating hours, there was a heightened risk of boating accidents, injuries, and fatalities.
Boating Under the Influence
Alcohol continued to be the leading known contributing factor in deadly boating accidents in 2020, accounting for more than 100 deaths or 18% of total fatalities, according to the U.S. Coast Guard. The top five contributing factors to boating accidents were operator inattention, inexperience, improper lookout, excessive speed, and machinery failure.
While alcohol was not a factor in the Florida Keys boating accident, in California, nearly 25% of all fatal motorboat accidents involve alcohol. It is not illegal in California to drink alcohol on a boat. However, it is against the law to operate a vessel while under the influence of intoxicating liquor or drugs.
The blood alcohol limit for boating is the same as for driving a motor vehicle – 0.08%. A person convicted of boating under the influence or BUI may be fined up to $1,000 and sentenced to six months in jail. Alcohol consumption by the vessel operator or passengers is a factor in about 25% of all fatal motorboat accidents in California. BUI has become the leading contributing factor in fatal recreational boating accidents. Alcohol and drugs have the same effect on boaters as on drivers, impairing one’s judgment, balance, vision, and reaction time.
Why Are Boating Safety Courses Important?
Boating safety education is crucial because it helps reduce personal injury and property damage associated with recreational boating. If you are just out to enjoy a beautiful day on the water, equipping yourself with this knowledge can help keep yourself and your crew safe. Safety courses teach boaters how to safely operate a vessel, boating etiquette, and the rules of the waterways.
In the United States, more than 40 states have educational requirements for operating a boat on public waterways. Law enforcement officials such as the Harbor Patrol or the U.S. Coast Guard patrol the waterways. It is essential that all boaters cooperate with these officials by following county and state laws concerning boat license and education requirements.
One of the most apparent benefits of taking a boat safety course is that it will make you a safer and better boat operator. If you are a new boat owner or are ready to expand your knowledge in this area, a boating certificate or education course can be a significant first step. Another obvious advantage to taking such a course is that education can save lives.
Boating Safety Education is Mandatory in California
Here in California, boater education is mandatory. U.S. Coast Guard accident data show that states with some boater safety education have fewer accidents compared to states without boater education requirements. Many insurance companies also offer discounts on premiums to boaters who have completed an accreditation course. Boating safety courses cover many aspects of boating safety, from the basics of boat handling to understanding weather signs.
Advanced boating courses cover topics ranging from navigation to engine maintenance. Boating safety courses must be state-approved and could be done in a classroom, at home or online. The current list of approved courses can be found online at californiaboatercard.com.
Tips for Safe Boating
In addition to taking the boating course and familiarizing yourself with the principles of safe boat operation, here are some other tips that can help keep you safe on the water:
Operators and passengers must wear life jackets. According to the U.S. Coast Guard, 81% of boating deaths in 2021 were due to drowning and 83% of victims were not wearing a life jacket. Even good swimmers need life jackets because when people fall in the water, they may become disoriented or lose consciousness. Life jackets keep victims’ heads above water so they can breathe and be rescued more easily.
Exercise good judgment. Respect your own limits and stay within those limits. Never drink and drive a boat. Alcohol affects judgment, vision, balance and coordination. Use common sense on the water. Situations can arise or the weather can change within seconds. If you notice storm clouds, a sudden temperature drop or wind speeds increasing, play it safe and get out of the water.
Always be prepared. Make sure all equipment, including life jackets, are in good working order. Review a pre-departure checklist to ensure you have everything you need in your boat, including a tool kit and a first-aid kit. Before you leave, always file a boat plan with someone you trust.
If you or a loved one has been injured in a boating accident or lost a loved one due to someone else’s negligence, please contact an experienced Orange County boating accident lawyer who can help provide you with more information about pursuing your legal rights.