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Watercraft and Boating Accidents

Boat Accident Attorney in Florida

Injured in a boating or watercraft accident? You need an experienced boat accident attorney in Florida to help you recover damages. The lawyers at Searcy Denney are on your side and work diligently to protect victims. Contact us today to discuss your claim options and legal rights.

Why Florida Is a Breeding Ground for Watercraft Accidents

Floridians are surrounded by bodies of water: the Atlantic Ocean on the east coast, the Gulf of Mexico on the west coast, and numerous lakes, rivers, and canals in between. So, it’s no wonder that on weekends, sailboats, motorboats, fishing boats, jet skis, kayaks, and other watercrafts crowd these waters.

Along with the thrill of sun, water, and wind at your back, however, lurk the dangers posed by negligent or reckless watercraft operators. A poorly maintained or malfunctioning boat or an inexperienced or inattentive operator can cause catastrophic injuries and elevate the risk of drowning for boaters and swimmers.


Spinal cord and back injuries, brain damage and other catastrophic consequences of boating accidents can change victims’ lives forever and impose a substantial emotional and financial burden on families. Watercraft accident victims face significant medical expenses and rehabilitation costs and many are never able to work again.

Injured in Open Waters? Our Boating Accident Attorneys in Florida Are Not Afraid to Go to Trial for You

Our Florida boating accident lawyers have more than 40 years of experience holding negligent parties responsible for their actions in boating and watercraft accidents.

In just one example, personal injury attorney Greg Barnhart represented a teenager who was partially paralyzed when a group of high school friends celebrating homecoming took a 34-foot fishing boat out to party off of Peanut Island in Palm Beach County.  When they decided to head the boat into the Atlantic Ocean, the drivers – the boat owners’ teenage son and his friend – pushed the throttles down and, after riding up a huge wave, the boat dropped precipitously.  Another young man, who was sitting on the bow, was thrust into the air and crash landed hard on the deck.


Tragically, when the boat returned to shore, neither the boat occupants nor the boat owners acted quickly to seek medical attention for the injured young man. Ultimately, he underwent surgery to remove fragmented bones from his spinal cord and four more painful surgeries. Now he will have to live with permanent spine damage the rest of his life.

After two failed mediations, personal injury attorney Barnhart took this case to trial and a jury awarded a $6.4 million verdict against the boat’s operators and owners for their negligence.

Florida Boating Accident Statistics

Florida leads the country in registered vessels. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission reported 915,713 registered boating vessels in 2015. Naturally, it comes as no surprise that Florida tends to experience a higher rate of boating and watercraft injuries and/or fatalities in comparison to other states.

According to 2015 boat accident statistics:

  • There were 737 boating accidents in 2015 – 103 more than in 2014
  • In 2015, 62 boat operators and passengers were killed and another 438 were injured
  • Drowning was the number one cause of death for boat and watercraft accident victims in Florida
  • About 87% of boaters killed were not wearing life jackets

Common Causes of Boating and Watercraft Accidents

Unlike on public streets and highways, bodies of water do not have clearly marked traffic lanes or signals and signs that can help boaters avoid collisions and potential safety hazards. So it is the responsibility of watercraft owners, operators and passengers to be well-informed and to exercise good judgment to keep themselves safe on the water.

Some of the most common causes of watercraft accidents include:

  • Operator inexperience
  • Operator inattention
  • Reckless operation
  • Speeding
  • Weather and water conditions
  • Unsafe behavior of passengers
  • Equipment failure
  • Congested waterways
  • Drug or alcohol use

Types of Boating and Watercraft Accidents

There is a variety of watercraft in use in Florida, and the legal ramifications of an accident can be quite variable depending on the type of watercraft, weather conditions, training, ownership of the watercraft, and a number of other factors.

Consider the following.

Jet Ski Accidents

As far as private watercraft go, jet skis are among the most dangerous, and for a number of reasons:

  • Jet skis have significant power in a light, small profile, which means that it’s quite easy for newcomers to “overdo” the throttle and get into an accident’;
  • Jet skis are like motorcycles in the sense that they lack material to absorb the impact force of a collision — if you are involved in an accident, it’s highly likely that you will be subject to a direct impact to your body, exposing you to severe injuries; and
  • Jet ski rentals are often offered by recreational companies that lack the resources necessary to give you adequate safety training so that you can properly avoid an accident.

If you’ve been injured in a jet ski accident — even if it’s partially “your” mistake that led to the accident — you may still be entitled to hold the company liable for failing to provide you with the necessary training and equipment to minimize the risk of injury.

Wave Runner Accidents

Yamaha Waverunners are a brand of jet ski that is quite popular.  Unlike other jet skis, however, the Waverunner has a spout of water that shoots out at the back.  This can give rise to a unique accident risk in situations where the jet ski operator is navigating ahead of another vessel — the spout of water may limit the visibility of the watercraft behind the Waverunner, making it more likely for an accident to occur.

Yacht Accidents

Yacht accidents are unfortunately common, even in situations where the yacht owner has hired a professional crew to man the vessel.  In many yacht accident cases, the owner may not invest the resources necessary to maintain the vessel in a reasonably safe condition — for example, the yacht may not have been inspected in some time, or there may be some defective condition that has not yet been repaired.

If you’ve been injured in a yacht accident, we encourage you to get in touch with an experienced boating accident attorney in Florida today.  Your attorney will evaluate your claims and determine how to proceed with litigation.

Florida Boating Accident Law

Florida boating laws are extremely strict. Regulations are in place to enforce safety in open waters and help prevent boat and watercraft operator behaviors that can result in fatalities and personal injuries. Operators who ignore the posted speed and waste limits, do not pay attention to other traffic on the water, or disobey other navigation rules can be punished by fine or even imprisonment.

Anyone who has been involved in an accident due to a vessel or watercraft operator’s negligent actions may be entitled to boat injury compensation. It is imperative to speak with an experienced boating accident attorney in Florida as quickly as possible following the incident to discuss your options for filing a personal injury claim.

Negligence Per Se

It can be a challenge to prove that the defendant boat operator was negligent in their operation of their watercraft.  In order to establish negligence, you’d have to show that the defendant violated the standard of care (and that their violation of the applicable standard of care caused you to suffer injuries) — in other words, you’d have to show that a reasonable person with similar qualifications and under same or similar circumstances would have operated the watercraft differently, thus avoiding the accident at-issue.

Negligence per se is quite advantageous for the injured plaintiff, by contrast.  Negligence per se is essentially a “presumption” of negligence.

Negligence per se is established when the plaintiff shows that the defendant violated a maritime safety regulation, thus giving rise to the accident at-issue.  Instead of having to prove negligence (and violation of the standard of care), the injured plaintiff need only show that the regulation was violated.

For example, if the defendant boat operator is operating their watercraft while intoxicated, then they will likely be considered “negligent per se,” as they are in clear violation of maritime safety laws that are meant to protect you — the defendant — and others like you from injury.

Negligent Entrustment

In Florida, negligent entrustment principles apply not only to motor vehicles, such as cars and trucks, but also to boats and other small watercraft.  Negligent entrustment occurs when the owner of the watercraft at-issue permits an individual to operate the watercraft despite having knowledge that the permitted individual is incompetent to safely operate the vessel.  If injuries result from the permitted individual’s use of the watercraft, then the injured plaintiff may have an independent right of action against the vessel owner for significant damages pursuant to a “negligent entrustment” claim.

Negligent entrustment has several elements.  To prove that the defendant-owner has committed negligent entrustment, you must show:

  1. That the boat operator (e.g. the permitted individual) was incompetent to use the vessel at-issue;
  2. That the owner permitted the operator to use the vessel;
  3. That the owner knew or reasonably should have known that the operator was incompetent to use the vessel; and
  4. That the operator’s incompetence proximately caused your injuries.

Let’s use a quick example for clarity.

Suppose that you are a passenger on a small sailboat, berthed at your local marina.  Suddenly, a small watercraft (motorboat) comes in at a high speed and slams into the side of your sailboat, causing you to sustain significant injuries.

You consult a boat accident attorney in Florida and begin to investigate the accident  — the investigation reveals not only that the defendant operator was intoxicated at the time of the accident, but also that the motorboat was owned by a different individual.  If the owner was aware of the fact that the operator was intoxicated (or would likely be intoxicated) when permitting them to use the motorboat, then you could ostensibly sue and recover damages from the owner pursuant to negligent entrustment.

Vicarious Liability

Vicarious liability — in Florida and in other jurisdictions — gives you the right to attach the negligence-based liability of an employee to their employer.  In the boating context, this means that a crew member’s negligence could give you a right of action for damages against their employer, even if the employer was not independently responsible for your losses.

For example, imagine a situation in which you are riding as a passenger on a chartered boat for the day.  One of the crew members fails to operate the sails correctly, however, causing the boat to veer off-course and collide with another boat.  You are subsequently injured due to the collision.

Now, Florida law gives you a right of action against the crew member’s employer if you can show that the injury was caused within the course and scope of their employment, which — in these circumstances — it clearly was.

Boating Under the Influence (BUI)

Florida boating laws also prohibit intoxicated watercraft operation. Boating Under the Influence (BUI) is a serious offense and can lead to severe or even fatal accidents and injuries. Anyone operating a boat with a blood alcohol level of .08% or higher risks fines from $500 to $2,000 and imprisonment. Those convicted of multiple BUI offenses in Florida can face up to five years in prison.

Life jacket and life ring buoyContact a Boat Accident Attorney in Florida Who Will Fight for You

We are fortunate to live and practice along the Atlantic coast where, like many Floridians, our attorneys and staff enjoy boating and water sports. So we feel we have a vested interest in helping victims and their families who have been involved in serious boating accidents. Our firm is skilled in investigating and litigating personal injury cases and will help you recover just compensation.

If you or a loved one has been injured in a watercraft accident, we are available to talk with you, give you a realistic assessment of your claim, and help you pursue justice. Please fill out our Contact Form or call us at 1-800-780-8607 to schedule an appointment for a free, confidential consultation with an experienced boat accident attorney in Florida.

What Our Clients Have To Say

" Cannot say enough about Mr. Ward and his team. Joanna and Mr. Ward helped me through a very difficult time while being extremely professional and prompt. I would highly recommend. "