Boaters’ Responsibility for Own Wake (Watch Your Wake)

An enjoyable boating experience is one in which everyone returns to shore safely. In order for that to happen, operators must at all times adhere to the “rules of the road” while on the water.

Chief among these are rules concerning a boater’s “wake.” This refers to the recirculating flow of water directly behind a moving vessel. There is also “wash,” which is a component of a wake that consists of broken or loose water, such as that tossed up by a propeller. Wake caused by motorized vehicles is the most problematic for the environment and other boaters and swimmers who share the water.

For one thing, vegetation and animal life in and around Florida’s waterways are fragile. Fish, wildlife habitat, shorelines and shoreline structures are vulnerable to damage from wakes made by boats over time. Secondly, wake generated by boats can be immediately threatening to others using the water recreationally. Passengers on smaller boats, like personal watercraft or kayaks, as well as skiers, could be thrown overboard or off balance when another vessel passes too closely or too quickly. Even those in larger boats can be knocked down, thrown out of their seat or tossed overboard if their boat hits a large wake.

Per state and federal law, an operator is responsible for his or her vessel’s wake and any damage or personal injury it may cause.

Fort Myers boating injury attorneys at Associates and Bruce L. Scheiner, Attorneys for the Injured, know when another boater’s negligence in creating a wake results in injury to another person, that boat operator may be held liable to pay compensation, including:

  • Medical bills
  • Lost wages
  • Pain and suffering
Boating Regulatory Zones

In order to make it easier for boaters to safely navigate certain waters, state authorities carefully assess certain waterways and designate certain regulatory zones with regard to speed restriction. One of the primary purposes of this is to reduce the potential for wake damage or injury.

It’s on the shoulders of boat operators to look for these signs, to know what they mean and to follow the rules.

The most common regulatory zones are as follows:

  • “Idle Speed, No Wake” Zone. This is an area designated for vessels to be operated at a speed no greater than what is necessary to maintain headway and steerage. At this speed, the vessel shouldn’t produce a wake.
  • “Slow Speed, Minimum Wake” Zone. This is an area in which vessels need to be fully off plane and totally settled in the water. If there is a wake created by a vessel, it should be very small or minimal. If your boat is traveling with its bow even slightly elevated in this area, you are not following the law requiring you to proceed at “Slow Speed.”
  • Maximum 25 MPH, 30 MPH, 35 MPH Speed Zones. In these controlled areas, no vessel may operate at speeds exceeding that which is posted.
  • Vessel Exclusion Area. In these areas, which are marked with a vertical, diamond shape with a cross at the center, all boats or certain classes of boats are excluded from the area entirely. Usually, that is because the area has been designated as a swim area.

Beyond these posted limits, there are also general safety guidelines to help boaters anticipate possible wake-related damage or injuries. The following tips were offered by “BOATING,” a powerboat trade magazine:

  • Even if you are not in a slow-wake or no-wake zone, make sure to slow down anytime you pass within 500 feet of a smaller boat or a shoreline or marina. By doing so, you ensure your wake will spread out and not be as disruptive.
  • Slow down your vessel in advance of reaching the posted wake signs. Otherwise, you risk having your wake effect potentially reaching the restricted areas.
  • To proceed with the smallest wake in posted no-wake speed zones, trim the outboard or drive to a vertical position.
  • If you’re in a larger boat, idling in gear can still have you going up to 10 mph because they have large propellers. In these cases, it’s advisable to alternatively shift in and out of gear while moving forward.

Some of the elements to be considered when weighing possible operator negligence for damage caused by wake includes:

  • The size of the wake
  • The speed of the boat
  • Visibility issues
  • Boat traffic in the area at the time of the accident
  • Whether operator warned passengers the boat was approaching a large wake
  • Whether the injured person was on a smaller vessel

Our experienced Naples boating accident lawyers are prepared to conduct a full analysis of your case to determine your legal rights.

Contact Associates and Bruce L. Scheiner, Attorneys for the Injured, for a free and confidential consultation to discuss your rights. There are no fees or costs unless we win. Offices in Fort Myers, Cape Coral, Naples and Port Charlotte.

Call 800-646-1210 for a Free Consultation

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