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Safety Tips for Children on PWCs and Other Vessels in Florida

Boating Accidents

No doubt about it: Being out on the water is fun. But also make no mistake: It can be dangerous, especially for kids. According to a 2020 Boating Accident Statistical Report, in 2020, 402 boating accidents involved collisions and 44% of those were due to the operator’s inattention or failure to maintain a proper lookout.

Florida had 836 boating accidents in 2020, which is 113 more accidents than in 2019 (a 16% increase). A total of 79 people lost their lives last year in boating accidents, 14 more than the previous year. Since 2003, falling overboard has been the leading type of fatal accident with drowning as the leading cause of death. Of the drowning victims, 88% were not wearing a life jacket.

Why Are There So Many PWC and Boating Accidents Involving Kids in Florida?

In Florida, collisions are often the result of an operator’s failure to pay attention, mechanical failures, adverse weather conditions, and/or operating the boat while intoxicated or under the influence of drugs. With kids, however, it’s generally just age-appropriate horseplay. Running across the deck, diving into unknown waters, pushing each other off of the boat, and the like are all dangerous behaviors, but mild danger can become instant tragedy when one simple rule is not followed: Every passenger wears a life jacket at all times.

The Importance of Life Jackets

A majority of fatalities every year are boaters that are reported as swimmers who fall overboard and drown. Many of these deaths can be prevented by wearing a life jacket. Most of these excuses lose have lost their effectiveness as fatalities continue to occur: 

  • I’m a great swimmer and don’t need a life jacket. Even the best swimmers aren’t always ready to be thrown overboard and may hit their heads on the way down.
  • I’m an experienced boater, and I know what I’m doing. Still, age and experience don’t float.
  • It’s just too hot and uncomfortable to wear a life jacket. The availability of inflatable life jackets has made wearing one more comfortable as they become less bulky and constrictive. Try out one of the newer models.

Safety Tips for Kids on PWCs and Boats

Our Florida PWC accident attorney understands that fun can turn into tragedy in the blink of an eye, especially for children. According to Patch, the U.S. Coast Guard suggests following these simple safety tips:

  • As discussed, wear a U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket when boating. When boating with children, make sure to choose a life jacket that is appropriate for your child’s weight and water activity.
  • Enroll children in swimming lessons as soon as possible. Drowning is the leading cause of accidental death for children of all ages.
  • Pack all safety equipment prior to getting underway. Ensure that all emergency gear is up-to-date and stowed in a position that is easily accessible if needed. Equipment such as first-aid kits, flares, blankets, radios, and a portable fire extinguisher is all-important in an emergency.
  • Educate children on propeller safety and advise on how to stay clear of the “props.” Since it operates below the waterline, the propeller is not readily visible to the operator, passengers, and swimmers. It is important to teach children not to fear the propeller, but also discuss the important safety rules that pertain to it.
  • Be a good role model. Set a good example and show children that safety is important. Establish basic safety rules so children have instruction on how to act in accordance with safety guidelines.

The Charlotte Florida Weekly also offers some important tips:

  • Safety starts in the parking lot. Get the kids in the habit of putting on sunblock, a hat, and their life jackets even before you walk down to the boat. That way, they’ll be protected if they accidentally tumble off the dock into the water.
  • Keep everything in good working order. When you board the boat, have everyone stow their gear and any water toys away neatly. Be sure there are no loose lines, mops, buckets, etc. on deck that someone might trip over.
  • Perform a comprehensive pre-cruise check. The adult who is driving the boat should give the kids a safety lesson before leaving the dock. Make it a point to tell them that there can only be one captain, and it’s important to follow his or her orders quickly and quietly. Set a few basic rules, including No running or sitting on the side rails, foredeck, aft sun pad, or swim platform when the boat is underway.
  • Radio check. Be sure everyone knows how to operate the boat’s VHF radio in case of an emergency. Practice, if you have a willing partner. This not only shows the kids how to key the microphone and talk over the VHF, but it also lets you be sure the radio is in good working order.
  • Tow for two. When you tow kids behind the boat on inflatable water toys, water skis, or a wakeboard, be sure to designate an adult or teen to be the official watcher, keeping his or her eyes on the towed rider at all times. Teach the kids hand signals they can use to tell you to speed up, go slower or stop. Be sure they wear their life jackets while skiing, boarding, or riding.
  • Places, please. Give the kids assigned seats on the boat while docking so that they don’t accidentally block the driver’s view. Make sure they know to keep their fingers and toes inside while docking.

PWC and Boating Tips for Toddlers

Toddlers on the water need the same thing they need anywhere else — constant attention. The Freedom Boat Club offers some simple tips that may allow you to relax a little:

  • Life Jackets. Again, be sure your child wears a life jacket that is approved by the U.S Coast Guard. There are life jackets available specifically for toddlers (weights between 30-50lbs) with an age-appropriate design. Look for special safety features such as a grab handle, neon color so they are easy to spot, or a strap between the legs. Life jackets only work if they are worn, so make sure your toddler keeps them on!
  • “Childproof” Your Boat. Just as you would when visiting someone else’s house, make sure to stow anything that is loose, dangerous, or fragile. Don’t leave ropes lying around that make it easy to trip or become entangled. 
  • Bring Plenty of Supplies. Don’t forget to bring plenty of the necessities: water, snacks, juice, diaper bag, sunscreen, wipes, and a change of clothes. Bring more than you think you might need…It’s better to have too much than not enough.
  • Establish Rules. Just like anywhere else you go with a toddler, having specific rules in place while on the boat is key. Remind them to stay seated while the boat is moving, never to hang their feet off the boat, stay quiet during the docking process, etc. Expect that they will act the same way they do at home.
  • Plan for Fun. Bring along plenty of games, toys, books, and fun things to do on the boat. Your toddler might not be as entertained by the beautiful homes or dazzling water as you are.
  • Avoid Too Much Sun. Make sure to apply plenty of sunscreen and provide plenty of shade while on board. Too much sun can lead to dehydration, sunburn, fatigue, and a cranky child. Also consider decking them out in a hat, sunglasses, and UPF clothing.

Contact a Florida PWC Accident Attorney If Your Child Has Been Injured in a Watercraft Accident

PWCs and boats are very common in Florida, and staying safe during an outing is of primary importance. If your child has been injured in a PWC or boating accident, a Florida PWC accident attorney can help you recover all of the financial compensation to which he or she is entitled. We work on a contingency fee basis, so contact us to discuss your claims during your free consultation.

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