While the State of Florida requires drivers of motor vehicles to be licensed and insured before they can hit the road, there are no such requirements to take to the high seas.
Vessels must be properly registered, but boaters themselves aren’t vetted in the same way.
Amid a growing awareness that inexperience is a major contributing cause to Florida boating accidents, state officials in 2010 began requiring all operators born on or after Jan. 1, 1988 to complete a boater safety education course. The ID issued upon completion must be kept on board at all times if the operator is driving a vessel with 10 horsepower or more. Still, this completion ID is not a formal “license,” and as of right now, it’s only required of younger operators.
At Associates and Bruce L. Scheiner, Attorneys for the Injured, our experienced Fort Myers boating injury attorneys know that of the hundreds of boating operators involved in waterway accidents in 2013, more than 52 percent had no boater education.
That’s according to the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC). When it came to fatal accidents, the lack of boater education was even starker: 63 percent had no boating education. (There were 12 percent for which officials had no information regarding boater education, so the actual number of untrained boaters could in fact be higher.)
While boating safety education ID cards aren’t required for older operators, many are still undergoing the course just to bolster their knowledge and level of preparedness. The FWC reports an estimated 36,250 ID cards were issued during 2013, with 6,740 of those given to out-of-state residents.
Operator inexperience was cited as the No. 3 cause of boating accidents by the FWC, accounting directly for 81 of the 766 reportable boating accidents in Florida in a recent year. It may have played an indirect role in many other cases where another primary cause was cited (e.g. alcohol impairment, excessive speed, operator inattention or carelessness, etc.).Florida’s Boating Safety Education ID Card
The boater education safety course is required of all operators born in or after 1988. It’s also required of many boaters who are convicted of certain criminal boating violations or infractions if they wish to restore their privilege to operate a boat.
There are numerous providers, but the course must be approved by the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators.
Once an ID is issued, it is valid for life.
Of the more than 36,000 IDs issued in 2013, most were in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach Counties. Sarasota ranked fifth with 778, and Lee eighth with 616.
One encouraging figure that emerged from recent FWC data is that many of those who received boater education were over 25, despite the age cutoff for safety course requirements. FWC reported:
- Under 16 – 8,821 IDs issued
- 17 to 21 – 6,860 IDs issued
- 22 to 34 – 6,506 IDs issued
- 35 to 54 – 8,093 IDs issued
- 55 and older – 5,957 IDs issued
Boater safety courses typically cover the following topics:
- Alcohol and boating, where a significant portion of boating accidents result from boating under the influence;
- Carbon monoxide risk, which is deadly and can be produced when propane, charcoal or oil burns to power onboard appliances, like a stove, grill, hot water heater or generator;
- Fire extinguishers, which can be needed when there is a fire onboard;
- Flares and distress signals, which are an effective way to alert to onboard distress;
- Crew overboard, a major source of small boat fatalities, often resulting from craft instability;
- Navigation rules, necessary for boaters to avoid a collision;
- Marine communications, recognizing cell phones are less effective on water and understanding why a very high frequency (VHF) radio is preferred – and how to use it;
- Life jackets, required for all children under 6 and those on personal watercraft devices, and recommended for anyone under 18 or who cannot swim well;
- Federal equipment requirements, informing of the more complete details of necessary onboard equipment.
Failing to complete a required boater safety education course and causing an accident that might have been prevented by the information contained therein could be considered a form of negligence warranting compensation.
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.