Holding weddings, parties, and other social engagements on the water is a common way to add flavor to a mundane event, and while this is a perfect way to make an event memorable, it should be remembered that boating is fraught with hazards for the unwary. Authorities in Pinellas County recently recovered the body of a man who fell overboard while performing maintenance on his vessel’s engine and drowned. Had the victim worn a life preserver, the death may have been preventable.
Many things can also go wrong on a boat populated by intoxicated individuals. Vessel owners who wish to provide an interesting venue for a social event should take precautions before adding alcohol to the menu. Failing to do so can result in criminal charges and civil liability for damages resulting from any accidents on board.
- Essential Supplies: Before bringing any passengers on any seafaring vessel for any reason, ensure that the vessel possesses adequate safety equipment to comply with all laws. Vessel owners are legally required to possess at least one personal flotation device approved by the U.S. Coast Guard per passenger. Each vessel must also contain an auditory signaling device such as a whistle, another life preserver ready to be thrown overboard at a moment’s notice, and three signal flares. Vessels with compartments where gas fumes can accumulate must also carry a fire extinguisher.
- Personal Injury and Accidental Death: By law, vessel operators involved in an accident involving injury or death to any person must notify a regulatory authority; this can be the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the county sheriff, or the local police chief. In the event that anyone is injured while on the boat to an extent that the injury requires medical intervention, the boat owner should immediately seek medical assistance for the injured party.
Personal injury and wrongful death claims occurring within the United States’ territorial waters are handled in a matter similar to other tort claims. If an accident occurs and one or more of the aforementioned safety features is missing, victims may be seriously injured. If a lack of life preservers leads to an unexpected drowning, vessel owners will be civilly liable for the wrongful death as well as potentially incurring homicide charges. Without adequate signaling devices, it may be difficult to identify the location of a stranded vessel.
- Property Damage: In the event that a collision occurs causing property damage exceeding $2,000, vessel owners are required to report the incident in the same manner as an injury accident. It is unlawful to leave the scene without reporting the accident. However, vessel owners are not responsible for every party goer’s reckless conduct; if a partygoer damages another vessel at the party, that person will be liable for the resultant damages.
- Intoxication and Boating: It is not unlawful to consume alcohol while on a boat. However, it is unlawful to consume alcohol and operate the vessel. Whether asking a Tallahassee or a Tampa DUI lawyer, one will be advised to prevent anyone with alcohol in his or her system access to the boat’s controls. Florida laws preventing boating under the influence mirror the state’s driving laws; no person may operate the vessel with a blood alcohol content that is at or above .08.
Boat owners can host events and lend their vessels to others if the event is held responsibly. If the vessel is improperly prepared, boat owners may be liable for any injuries that could have been prevented with the presence of safety equipment; violating state regulations regarding safety equipment clearly demonstrates negligence. When the party is underway, vessel owners should keep intoxicated party goers away from the vehicle’s controls. If an incident occurs, report it and seek medical assistance immediately.
Unfortunately, vessel owners are likely to be the subjects of litigation if any type of damaging incident occurs while on the water. If anyone is injured or if the vessel owner has been accused of operating the vehicle in violation of Florida law, the vessel owner should immediately seek legal counsel. Seeking legal counsel ensures that one’s rights are respected and that one is not coerced into accepting unnecessary settlements or plea agreements.
Having grown up with and around boats of all sizes, Ann Bailey posts this research for Florida boat owners who entertain socially and for business aboard their craft. Defending clients with DUI arrests, the Tampa DUI lawyer group at Katz & Phillips, PA helps boat guests, owners and captains with any alcohol-related charges.