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Boating Accidents

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One of the biggest benefits to living in Southwest Florida is the access to our beautiful waterways, from a small creek in East Fort Myers to the canals of Cape Coral, and out the Caloosahatchee River to  the open waters of the Gulf of Mexico. Boating is one of the many reasons people move here, whether it's full time or just for the winter season – people love the boating lifestyle up and down our scenic shoreline.

But just as in driving a car on our crowded roads, operating a boat on our area waters comes with a distinct amount of risk for your safety, and for other boaters you may encounter.

Thanks to our abundant access to the water, Florida ranks as the leading state in the country for boat registrations. Along with so many boats comes the chance for a serious boating accident that can cause extremely serious injuries, or even death.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission, (FWC), publishes statistics on boating accidents throughout the state. Their 2017 report lists Lee County, Florida, as the 5th highest number of boating accidents. For that year, there were 20 boating crashes reported, 14 with injuries and 9 with fatalities.

The report also points out some other interesting stats:

  • Open motorboats were involved in the most collisions on the water
  • The leading cause of boating accidents is “no proper lookout/inattention”
  • The most common type of boating accident is colliding with another boat

Some other very common reasons for boating accidents give you a pretty good idea of just how some of these collisions can occur. Alcohol use, operator inexperience and carelessness / recklessness are all listed as being top causes of serious boating accidents. Its not hard to see how taking your boat out for a cruise can be a very dangerous excursion.

Types of Boating Accident Injuries

The FWC report also breaks down the most common types of injuries resulting from a boat accident, in order of occurrence

  • Lacerations
  • Contusions
  • Broken bones
  • Head injury
  • Burns
  • Back and spinal injuries
  • Neck injuries
  • Amputation injuries

There was a terribly tragic fatality in March 2019, just off the shoreline near the Lani kai Resort on Fort Myers Beach. A boater had been anchored just offshore from the popular resort when the vessel became stuck on the sand when the tide went out. Several people were in the water, attempting to push the boat out into deeper waters. Unfortunately, the boat's operator had the engines running, and was seen revving the engine's propellers in an effort to get off the sandbar. The suction from the propellers sucked a woman under the water, and her arm was severely lacerated. They took her to a local emergency room, but she would later die of her injuries.

Also in March 2019, on the same weekend, in fact, a local urologist was killed in a one-person boating crash as he was piloting a boat in Hendry Creek near Estero Bay. Details on the cause of the crash were unavailable, as the FWC continues to investigate the incident.

Can I Recover Money if I'm Hurt in a Boating Accident in Florida?

There are several things that make a boating accident different than a motor vehicle accident. If you suffer a serious injury on a boat that someone else is driving, there are certain things that must be proven in order to make a claim for any financial compensation.

A key element is if the boat's operator was negligent in his duties. This can include whether they were under the influence of alcohol or drugs, or were operating the boat in a reckless manner, like speeding or other illegal operations.

When you step onto someone's boat for a leisurely sunset cruise, the operator of the boat owes everyone onboard the legal duty to operate the vessel in a reasonable and prudent manner and must follow all boating laws and posted restrictions. They need to demonstrate proper regard of other vessels on the water and to never do anything that would endanger the people on their boat, or those on another boat or in the water.

Another concern is if the boat and its operator have any insurance coverage on the boat, or adequate liability insurance that protects those who are onboard. As of 2011, having insurance on your boat is not a legal requirement in Florida. There may be a legal requirement for having insurance if the boat is financed, or if the marina or other place the boat is kept, like a storage yard, requires it. Of course, a smart boater knows that sufficient liability insurance is imperative if you want to protect yourself in the event someone is hurt on your boat.

Boat accidents also differ from car accidents because of where they happen. The experienced boat accident lawyers at Goldberg Noone understand that complicated maritime laws may come into play depending on exactly where the boat accident happened. There are other federal admiralty laws in different jurisdictions that may affect someone's efforts to recover financial compensation after being injured in a boating accident.

Its important to speak with a boat accident lawyer who is completely familiar with the many laws, ordinances and state statutes that apply when trying to make a claim against the insurance company of a boat owner who was found to have caused the crash.

Many other factors come into play following a boating accident that differentiate it from a motor vehicle crash. In a car accident, there are generally clearer ways to determine who was liable, or at fault, for the crash. Things like highway lane markers, stop signs and stop lights, directional signage or traffic indicators, and the written rules of the road can all be used to determine who is at fault in a car accident.

But on the open waters, you are often left relying on the boat operator's knowledge of the state boating laws and rules, their general competency in safely operating their vessel and that they are following all safety precautions.  In Florida, because of the large increase in registered vessels each year, you are likely to be out on the water alongside an inexperienced boater. There are boaters out there who have never taken a sanctioned boater's safety course or had any training at all behind the wheel of a boat. Maybe they just moved here and bought their first boat to enjoy from their backyard canal.

On a beautiful, sunny day when the water is calm and congested with pleasure boaters, you just never know what some other boat operator is going to do that may end up causing a serious physical injury, or even the loss of a life.

There are many other laws and legal requirements that apply specifically to personal watercraft, (PWC), or “jet skis”, a very popular activity among younger boaters. Still more laws and regulations apply to the businesses that rent PWCs to people along the beach. In some cases, the operator of the PWC rental business may have acted in a negligent or careless manner in renting someone a jet ski or other watercraft and could be found liable in the event of a lawsuit for financial compensation.

The Florida Fish & Wildlife Commission also publishes a very comprehensive guide of Boating Laws & Responsibilities, which includes this information about boating accidents:

An operator involved in a boating accident must:

  • Stop his or her vessel immediately at the scene of the accident unless the action would endanger his or her own vessel, crew, or passengers and…
  • Give assistance to anyone injured in the accident and…
  • Give his or her name, address, and identifying number of his or her vessel to the other vessel's operator and/or owner of damaged property.
  • Florida's “02 Law” takes a strong stand against underage drinking while operating a vessel. Boaters under 21 years of age who are found with a measurable breath alcohol level of 0.02 or higher are subject to receiving a citation with minimum mandatory sentencing. If a person under 21 is above a 0.08 breath alcohol concentration, he or she also can be charged with BUI. Just remember this simple rule: Don't Drink and Boat!
  • Vessel operators involved in an accident must report the accident by the quickest means possible if the accident has resulted in:
  • A death or disappearance of a person or…
  • An injury causing a person to require medical attention beyond first aid or…
  • Damage to the vessel and other property of $2,000 or more.
  • The report of the accident must be made to The Division of Law Enforcement, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (call 1-888-404-3922, or *FWC from a mobile phone) or…
  • The sheriff of the county where the accident occurred or…
  • The police department of the municipality in which the accident occurred.
  • Failure to report an accident and failure to render aid are both criminal offenses.

It never costs a thing to speak directly to a skilled and experienced boating accident lawyer at the Goldberg Noone law firm. One call to us at 888-461-2919 will get you the answers you need to make an informed decision about whether you may have a legal case involving a boating accident injury. Or you can simply fill out the form on the right side of this page, and one of our attorneys will contact you immediately.

Southwest Florida is one of the most popular boating destinations in the entire state, and just like on the road, more boats – and inexperienced boaters – mean more accidents. We encourage everyone that operates a boat to take the required safe boating courses, make sure your boat is equipped with all of the required safety equipment, and don't operate your vessel while under the influence of alcohol or drugs, or go out on one with someone who is impaired.


People who hire a good attorney greatly increase the chances of winning their case. If your personal legal situation has you wondering if you need a lawyer or not, give us a call at 239-461-5508. We can sit down with you, no charge, to talk about your situation, and help you make that decision. You may decide you could use our firm on your side.


We, at The Goldberg Law Firm, are dedicated to standing up for the rights and protection of victims of negligence and to seeing justice done. We will continue to direct our combined knowledge, determination, and drive to the limits for each and every one of our clients. The results are record-breaking jury verdicts, real relationships with our clients, and legislative breakthroughs.