Center Console Runabout Accidents

In the boating world, a runabout is defined as any small motorboat that holds between four and eight people and easily moves about through the water. Uses are varied, with some employed to race, while others are used for recreational sports like water skiing and fishing. Others serve as a ship’s tender for larger vessels.

Common types of runabouts include:

  • Bow rider
  • Center console
  • Cuddy boat
  • Walkaround

The vessels are popular for those wishing to travel quickly because the hull shape is designed to allow the vessel to hydroplane, or skim across the top of the water surface, rather than pushing through the water in order to move forward. Most fall somewhere in the 14-to-24-foot range, and are typically powered by an outboard or stern-engine drive.

At Associates and Bruce L. Scheiner, Attorneys for the Injured, our boating injury attorneys in Fort Myers know open motorboats like these are involved in the majority of boating fatalities. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission reports open motorboats accounted for 33 of the 53 deadly boating accidents in a recent year, and 393 of the 736 total accidents reported that same year.

The most common accidents resulting in death or serious injury typically involve:

  • Falls overboard
  • Collisions with fixed object
  • Flooding
  • Collisions with other vessel

Center console runabouts are a type of open hull boat with a single deck where the console of the boat is in the center. Some models may feature a cabin, usually located below the bow. A person can easily walk around the boat from stern to bow on these models, which can increase the risk of falls – both inside the vessel and overboard – if operators aren’t careful.

The console is where the control center is located. These controls include the steering, trim control, radio, ignition and other electronic switches and devices. There is usually little to no protection from inclement weather, which means it is not ideal for cruising. While some models do feature a T-Top cover, this only provides some relief from rain and sun. However, these don’t come standard because the cover may be viewed as fishing line interference.

Tragedy in Center Console Runabouts

In recent years, there have been a number of tragedies stemming from crashes involving center console runabouts in South Florida.

One of those claimed the life of a 17-year-old high school student in St. Petersburg. Authorities say an 18-year-old was operating a 22-foot HydraSports center console runabout with a 250 horsepower outboard motor when it entered a harbor area at a high rate of speed. The vessel smashed into a seawall. Several other teens onboard were injured.

Excessive speed and sharp, high-speed maneuvering are consistently cited by the U.S. Coast Guard as primary factors in fatal and serious boating accidents.

In many cases, alcohol impairment is also deemed a significant factor in the accident.

Minimum Safety Requirements for Center Console Runabouts

Center Console Runabouts are considered a Class 1 Recreational Vessel by the U.S. Coast Guard. Vessels within this classification must be equipped with:

  • An approved personal floatation device for everyone onboard or being towed (with those six and under required to wear the vests at all times while the vessel is underway);
  • Visual distress signals for both day and nighttime use on high sea and coastal waters, which include the Gulf of Mexico as well as all bays, sounds, harbors, rivers and inlets where the entrance is more than 2 miles wide;
  • Sound-producing device, such as a bell, whistle or horn;
  • Backfire flame control for all vessels except those with outboard motors;
  • At least two ventilator ducts to efficiently ventilate every closed compartment; and
  • Vessel lighting sufficient for display between sunset and sunrise and during periods of reduced visibility (fog, rain, haze, etc.).

It’s also recommended (though not required) that runabout center consoles be equipped with an anchor and enough anchor line, a dewatering device (like a bilge pump) and a paddle or oar in case the engine dies.

Used Center Console Runabouts

Because the cost of a new vessel is often so high, many first-time boat owners seek a used model. While there is nothing inherently wrong with this, those seeking to purchase a used center console runabout should be careful to look for corrosion and other issues that could lead to a collision or other serious incident while at sea.

The Boat Owners Association of the U.S. recommends those looking specifically for a used center console runabout check for the following issues:

  • Soft transom cores. When water gets into the transom, it can compromise the structural integrity of the hull;
  • Decks and floors are also susceptible to intrusion of water;
  • Leaking hull-to-deck joints, which can start with damage to the rubrail;
  • Cracked gelcoat and paint. While usually not serious in and of itself, it can indicate minor prior collisions and, in some cases, weak supports;
  • Poorly-repaired or installed breaker panels and batteries; and
  • Corroded cables and controls, which would need to be replaced immediately.

A boat not properly inspected or maintained by its owner may be more prone to a crash. In these cases, the boat owner as well as operator would likely be deemed negligent.

Anyone injured in a center console runabout accident in Fort Myers should contact an experienced boat accident lawyer.

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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