Southwest Florida is an ideal spot for canoeing, with hundreds of miles of rivers, creeks, canals and inlets. Industry insiders estimate some 328,000 canoes were sold nationwide between 2009 and 2013, though many of those used in Florida are rented by locals and visitors alike.
Canoeing is considered a type of paddlesport (in league with kayaking, rafting and stand-up paddling). The Outdoor Industry Association reported in 2012 that there were 202 million annual paddling outings, with canoeing being the second most popular type of paddling behind kayaking.
At Associates and Bruce L. Scheiner, Attorneys for the Injured, our veteran personal injury and wrongful death attorneys know that while canoes lack engines, there is still a significant risk to operators and passengers. Potential dangers include overturned canoes (especially when passengers cannot swim), fatigue, heat exhaustion and acute injuries from collisions. Common injuries include:
- Broken bones
- Head and facial injuries
Florida has the second highest rate of canoers in the country, according to the American Canoe Association (ACA), with the South Atlantic region accounting for 19.6 percent of all canoers in the country.
While there are no licensing requirements for canoe operators, there are minimum safety requirements as listed by the U.S. Coast Guard for these Class A Recreational Vessels. Those safety requirements include:
- One approved personal floatation device for every person on board
- A sound-producing device, such as a bell, horn or whistle
- Visual distress signals (only on high sea or coastal waters, for nighttime use)
If you are renting a canoe, make sure your vessel is equipped with these important features. The Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) reports 49 percent of all boating fatalities in 2013 involved a vessel 16 feet or less in length.
Other items on the recommended canoe safety checklist include:
- Competency as a swimmer
- A spare paddle
- Being dressed for an unexpected flip
- A compass and chart or map
- Hat or helmet
- Proper footwear
- Drinking water/snacks
- UV eye protection
- First aid kit
- VHF radio and GPS locator
Canoes/kayaks were listed by the FWC as being involved in 3 of the 53 fatal accidents reported in 2013 in Florida. According to the U.S. Coast Guard, some factors that raised the risk of a fatal canoe accident included:
- Operator inexperience
- Consumption of alcohol and/or drugs
- Congested waterways
- Smaller vessels
- Absence of personal floatation devices
In canoeing, the occasional capsize is to be expected. In fact, some might even consider it part of the sport.
The ACA reports 85 percent of people killed in canoe accidents were not wearing a life jacket. These vests not only provide an additional floatation device in the event of an unexpected swim or capsize, they can offer a critical layer of warmth in colder waters. Even experienced swimmers can benefit from wearing a life jacket, as it allows one to concentrate on self-rescue as well as helping others.
The ACA indicates experienced canoers are four times more likely to wear a personal floatation device as compared to inexperienced paddlers, even though it’s been shown 70 percent of drowning incidents involving canoes could have been prevented had the victim worn a life jacket.Encountering Waterway Traffic
Some of the worst canoeing accidents occur when there are encounters with other larger, motorized vessels.
The ACA recommends first and foremost canoe operators must operate their vessels defensively. That means being keenly aware of your surroundings, especially if there are other craft in the area.
Recognize paddlers don’t travel as quickly as those in motorized vessels, so one should never assume the ability to safely cross in front of a powerboat. Usually, the safest possible crossing is astern (behind) the powerboat.
If you are traveling at night or in low light, make sure you are equipped with a white light that can be shown to oncoming boater traffic.
Other important safety tips include:
- Wear bright, noticeable clothing
- Keep your whistle handy
- Use reflective tape on your paddle blades
- Never impede the passage of a larger ship
- Monitor your marine VHF radio
If you are injured in a canoe accident in Fort Myers, Naples, Bonita Beach, Estero, Pine Island or Cape Coral, contact an experienced Fort Myers personal injury lawyer to represent you today.
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.