Inadequate Boat Maintenance
Keeping a vessel in good working order is just as important as ensuring the operator of the vessel does so with abundant care and sufficient knowledge.
In order for a vessel to be safe, the boat and all its systems and equipment have to be maintained so they can perform as designed. Failure to do this is will lead to an unsafe boating experience with potential for disaster, and it’s unquestionably a form of negligence.
At Associates and Bruce L. Scheiner, Attorneys for the Injured, our boating injury attorneys know boats are expensive to buy and expensive to maintain. Regardless, a boat owner who provides inadequate boat maintenance should not allow that vessel to be taken to sea.
Inadequate boat maintenance leads to a host of serious and potentially fatal problems aboard boats in Florida.
The Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) reports at least 108 of the reported 736 boating accidents in Florida in 2013 (about 15 percent) were related to some type of problem with the vessel parts or systems itself, including:
- Machinery failure (cited in 60 accidents)
- Hull failure (cited in 22 accidents)
- Equipment failure (cited in 21 accidents)
- Lack of proper lights (cited in 4 accidents)
- Lack of vessel floatation (cited in 1 accident)
Just one example of how such a case could result in injury and subsequent litigation is that of Pankratz v. International Risk Management, Ltd. A couple was seated on a 46-foot sports boat when the back of the seat used by the husband suddenly broke and he fell backward, causing him to suffer serious injury. The boat, owned by defendant, was under supervision of a full-time captain, who later testified a hinge in the back of the seat was corroded and broken. Expert witness testimony at trial indicated that type of corrosion could only be caused by use of improper cleaning materials and failure to wash those chemicals fully off the hinge. The seat manufacturer’s owner manual indicates the seat hinges should be regularly inspected and all cleaning materials rinsed off with fresh water. Ultimately, jury awarded plaintiff $350,000 in damages from one defendant, while two other defendants settled for a total sum of $75,000.Insurance Coverage
While insurance is not required for boat owners in Florida, it’s a good idea for a number of reasons. Not the least of these reasons is it can cover your liability for injuries to others if you are involved in a boat collision. Plus, a good policy can help protect your investment by covering the cost of necessary repairs.
However, boat operators who lag on routine maintenance could find themselves in deep trouble. Many policies will not extend coverage for repairs or liability if the damage is caused by improper maintenance or neglect of the vessel or its parts.
Other typical maintenance exclusions in policies are:
- Gradual deterioration
- Normal wear-and-tear
- Mold, infestation damage from pests
- Corrosion or rust
- Overheating of engines
Items or conditions that typically are included in most boat insurance policies are:
- Boat furniture
- Deck chairs
- Depth finders
- Fire extinguishers
- Fuel Tanks
- Life preservers
- Boat and motor covers
- Bilge pumps
- Emergency signaling devices
- Seat cushions
- Mooring cleat & lines
Of course, the exact coverage will depend on the language of each individual policy.
Regardless of whether a piece of equipment or condition is covered for repair by an insurance company, it is ultimately the responsibility of the boat owner to ensure a vessel is seaworthy before allowing it to leave the dock.
Some general maintenance advice from boating industry insiders include:
- Keep hull and decks clean and properly waxed. Fiberglass should be cleaned with freshwater and soap that is non-abrasive.
- Aluminum and stainless parts should be cleaned and polished with a high-quality metal wax. Failure to do so can result in metals corroding quickly, particularly in salt water.
- Make sure all bolts, screws and other fittings are secure.
- Keep boat under cover in a garage, carport or storage unit if at all possible.
- Change the oil regularly, adhering to minimum recommendations as outlined by the manufacturer.
- Flush engine with freshwater after each saltwater operation.
- Watch for the early stages of corrosion and take action to halt it as soon as possible.
- Keep shafts and props clean and in proper working order.
- Check all hull fittings and make sure the valves work and can be opened and closed.
- Check pumps and impellers and be prepared for a failure.
- Check for water and/or oil leaks before every single trip.
- Look for and replace any hoses or belts that seem to be degrading.
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.