Miami Boating Death Draws Florida Maritime Concerns

 In Maritime Law

boatEarlier this month, it was a somber afternoon on the beach off of Miami’s Key Biscayne Nixon estates when  well-known DJ, radio host and music personality, DJ Laz, was behind the helm of a 40-foot vessel  that killed a 23-year-old man  who was trying to free the boat off of the sandbar.

The popular Nixon Beach sandbar in Miami is a great little sandbar just south of bear cut. It is located a quarter mile south of Key Biscayne, where the depth varies from 6 inches to 5 feet.

According to Officer Jorge Pino with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, “there were several people there who were trying to push the boat off the sandbar. Unfortunately, there was another young man who came to assist. He ended up, we don’t know why, in the rear of the vessel and one of the engines actually caught his body,his torso, causing him to suffer some very severe injuries.” These injuries ultimately caused this young man’s death.

When must you report a boating accident?

Boating accidents must meet at least one of the five criteria below to be classified as “reportable:”

  • Someone dies
  • Someone disappears under conditions that can be attributed to a possible death or injury
  • Someone receives an injury requiring medical treatment
  • Property damage of $2,000 or more
  • Total loss of a vessel

Florida Boating Accident Stats

According to the United States Coast Guard, in 2012, 4,515 boating accidents occurred nationally. Of those accidents, 651 resulted in death. Unfortunately, Florida is responsible for the majority of the boating-related fatalities with more than 55 deaths.

To make matters worse, alcohol or drugs played a role in approximately 11 to 17 percent of boating fatalities depending on the year. Currently, investigators are still looking into whether drugs or alcohol played a role in the May death on the Nixon sandbar. Unfortunately approximately one third of all boating accidents nationally involve a captain or driver who is under the influence of alcohol. Currently, all states have criminalized boating under the influence (BUI) and often impose heavy fines on or incarcerate those convicted of such an offense.

Florida boating rules related to drinking alcohol are the same as driving on land. A blood/alcohol level of above .08 is illegal and could come with abottle with handcuffs - Praisaeng BUI charge.

I often get asked whether having an open container on board a vessel is illegal. At the time of this writing, Florida allows open containers on boats. However, this does not mean that a driver of a vessel is allowed to drink and drive.

Furthermore, anyone under the legal drinking age of 21 that is caught having a breath alcohol level of .02 or higher, and is either operating or in physical control of a vessel, is in direct violation of Florida law. Even being in possession of alcohol onboard a vessel with all passengers under 21 years old can lead to problems with law enforcement.

How are laws on the water different from laws on land?

Importantly, many other laws regarding boats are very different from those on land. For example, certain states prohibit waterskiing while being under the influence of alcohol. Basically, once a person puts on skis, they now fall into the same category as a boat captain for boating while intoxicated if caught skiing under the influence.

The majority of pleasure boating accidents occur when the operator of a boat is negligent in some way. Interestingly, less than 14 percent of deaths as a whole occurred on vessels where the operator or captain had received some sort of safety instruction, class or course. Furthermore, a significant number of accidents are attributed to excessive speed and the use of alcohol.

If you or someone you know has been injured in a boating accident by a negligent captain, driver or operator of a recreational or commercial vessel, it is important that you seek an attorney that is knowledgeable and specializes in maritime law.

Similarly,  if you or someone you know has received a boating under the influence citation, commonly referred to as a BUI, it is important to seek the advice and counsel of an attorney that is not only familiar with criminal law but also maritime law.

Boating in South Florida can be lots of fun. However, safety is priority number one for you and your loved ones.

Basic safety requirements for Florida boaters:

  • life preserverAll boaters are required to have US Coast Guard approved personal flotation devices (PFD) for each person on board. The personal flotation devices, or lifejackets, must be the correct size for each particular individual. The life vest must also be in a serviceable and working condition within easy access.
  • 16-foot vessels or larger are also required to have at least one US Coast Guard approved throwable type IV PFD that is readily available in case of a man overboard situation.
  • Any child under the age of six years old must wear a US Coast Guard approved type I, II or III personal flotation device while on board a vessel under 26 feet in length while the vessel is underway.
  • All vessels with built-in fuel tanks or any type of enclosed compartment are required to have a marine-approved fire extinguisher. Some vessels require more fire extinguishers.
  • All vessels are required to have a sound producing device onboard, such as a whistle or horn. Vessels longer than 40 feet must also carry a bell.

If you witness or have been involved in a boating accident or collision, it is imperative that you report the incident. Failure to report an incident or failure to give aid when necessary are both criminal offenses in the state of Florida. Reports of the incident 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.

Don’t hesitate to call an experienced maritime attorney if you have any questions regarding Florida boating laws, rules or regulations. 

Images courtesy of by Supertrooper, Praisaeng and cbenjasuwan

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