Practice Areas

Hazardous Waters

From rip currents to severe storms, the weather and water can change rapidly in Florida, resulting in a serious threat to the safety of both boaters and swimmers.

Some of the elements that commonly contribute to hazardous waters include:

  • Severe thunderstorms
  • Strong winds
  • Rough seas
  • Lightning
  • Rip currents
  • Waterspouts
  • Torrential rain

At Associates and Bruce L. Scheiner, Attorneys for the Injured, our experienced boat accident attorneys in Southwest Florida know these aren’t factors boaters can control. However, what they do control is their reaction.

Boat operators have a legal responsibility to operate their vessel in a reasonable and prudent manner. To do otherwise is carelessness. Most of these conditions are foreshadowed by some indication or occur with regularity to the point boaters should be prepared for the possibility. When operators fail to heed obvious warnings or act with wanton disregard for passengers or others around them by ignoring the potential for hazardous waters, this is a form of recklessness that could be interpreted as negligence. When an operator or boat owner is negligent, he or she (or applicable insurer) becomes liable to cover the cost of injuries and/or damages.

Even though not all operators of boats are required to undergo boating safety courses (it’s only mandated for those born on or after Jan. 1, 1988), taking such a class is a good idea for this very reason. A person with little to no prior experience with boating would likely not recognize indications of hazardous waters on the horizon.

The following are a few common dangers for which to be alert, as identified by the Florida Division of Emergency Management and the National Weather Service of Florida.

Lightning Risks while Boating in SWFL

On average, weather experts estimate 1.4 million cloud-to-ground lightning strikes are made each year in Florida. This state has the most lightning activity of anywhere in the nation, and the dangers are greatly increased over water.

One of the biggest problems is boaters fail to heed obvious warnings. Generally, if you can hear thunder, you are within 10 miles of a storm, and have the potential to be struck by lightning. A darkening cloud is the first sign lightning may strike, but blue skies and sunshine shouldn’t lull boaters into a false sense of security. As soon as one hears thunder or lightning, it’s imperative to act and seek the nearest possible shelter.

Boaters should constantly monitor weather forecasts, as action would ideally be taken long before thunder is heard or lightning is seen. The most dangerous place to be in a lightning storm is in an open area – and open water is particularly treacherous.

If it’s impossible to get to shore, boat passengers should seek shelter below deck or by getting as low as possible, taking care to avoid masts or metal objects.

While many people struck by lightning survive, they may sustain serious burns and permanent injuries. Risks are compounded by those struck in the water because emergency response may be significantly impeded.

Unexpected Storms

Strong gusts of winds can produce rough seas with waves as high as 12 feet in just seconds. Such conditions can easily overturn small boats.

If the rain is pouring down in buckets, boaters may find visibility is reduced to almost nothing.

Meanwhile, tornados over water can result in extremely dangerous conditions for those on water. This particular type of storm is called a waterspout, and it can easily overturn boats or create otherwise hazardous water conditions. Waterspouts form during severe thunderstorms over water, but they also sometimes appear when the weather seems fair and relatively calm. Such “fair weather waterspouts” are generally not as strong as those that spin off severe thunderstorms, but they can still easily damage or even destroy a small boat.

Boat operators who find themselves suddenly in close proximity to a waterspout should angle the vessel at a 90-degree angle from its movement and swiftly look for a safe harbor.

Rip Currents

Rip currents pose major threats to boater and swimmer safety. They claim more lives in Florida than hurricanes, lightning, floods and tornados combined.

A rip current is comparable to a shallow channel or river of water that flows away from shore. They can last just a few minutes or sometimes for hours, and can extend some 100 yards offshore.

Certain weather conditions, such as tropical storms, can result in a rip current being stronger or more frequent, but even seemingly minor rip currents can be very dangerous if they catch boaters or swimmers off-guard. The force is generally too strong for even the strongest swimmer to swim directly against, and many people panic, become fatigued and the results are fatal.

Boat operators need to not only monitor the forecast, but also recognize the limitations of the vessel. If there are small craft advisories or gale warnings, travel should be postponed.

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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