Inflatable Boat Accidents

Inflatable boats are lightweight vessels made with a bow and sides of flexible tubing containing pressurized gas.

Most of the smaller models (shorter than 10 feet) are made with flexible material, such as rubber or a hybrid rubber-fabric, while larger models usually have tough aluminum sheets or plywood secured between the two tubes on either side. Most feature an outboard motor mount, though some are solely designed for paddling.

Common nicknames for inflatable boats include:

  • inflatable dinghy
  • inflatable
  • inflatable rescue boat
  • rubber duck
  • rubber dinghy

Boating injury attorneys at Associates and Bruce L. Scheiner, Attorneys for the Injured, know that while many consumers find these vessels convenient (they are lightweight, require limited storage and offer quick, easy access to waterways), they can also be very dangerous, particularly if the operator is not properly trained or if the vessel is inadequately maintained or repaired.

These vessels are commonly used as a form of rescue craft, but are also used increasingly as dive boats, in recreational water skiing, racing, commercial and recreational fishing and as tenders for luxury yachts or for larger boats in port (including cruise ships).

Inexperienced boaters may mistakenly attempt to take these vessels out into the open sea, but they are generally intended for lakes, rivers and other “sheltered” bodies of water. Still, even in the appropriate setting, there are risks.

Some of the more common incidents have involved:

  • Falls overboard
  • Striking swimmers, divers or overboard passengers with the motor
  • Making sudden turns without advance warning to passengers
  • Failure of operator to wear the engine emergency stop lanyard on one’s hand
  • Failure to maintain all appropriate safety gear and equipment
  • Overturned vessel

Relatively speaking, inflatable vessels are involved in a small portion of accidents and fatalities in Florida waters, but that’s more than likely because they only comprise a small number of vessels on the water. The Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission reports rigid hull inflatable vessels and rubber/vinyl vessels were involved in a total of five reportable accidents in 2013 and one fatal crash.

It’s worth noting “reportable boating accidents” are only those resulting in personal injury requiring medical treatment, death, disappearance or damage to property of more than $2,000. Given that inflatable boats cost an average of between $500 to $1,000, it’s likely those small figures are only a fraction of the actual incidents that occur on inflatable boats.

Essential Safety Gear

The owner and/or operator of any vessel is responsible for carrying, storing, maintaining and using all essential safety gear and equipment, as required by the U.S. Coast Guard.

Because most inflatable boats have an outboard motor and require the operator to sit or stand inside the vessel, it is not considered a personal watercraft. (Inflatable kayak models would follow regulations for kayak operators/owners.)

The law requires owners/operators to have at least one wearable, approved personal floatation device for each passenger. Those devices have to be in good condition and easily accessible. Although the law does not mandate users over the age of six to wear lifejackets at all times, it’s strongly recommended.

Operators/owners of inflatable boats have to carry an efficient sound-producing device (such as a whistle) and those under 16-feet have to carry at least three visual distress signals when operating at night. Those larger than 16 feet have to carry at least three daytime and three nighttime visual distress signals at all times.

All recreational vessels have to display navigation lights between sunset and sunrise and when visibility is severely reduced.

The law also warns against overloading, which can be especially dangerous on an inflatable craft. Specifically, the law indicates no one can operate a single hull boat less than 20-feet in length so long as the maximum weight, persons or horsepower capacity as indicated by the manufacturer is exceeded.

Safety Tips for Inflatable Boat Operators

Inflatable boat manufacturers offer a number of different safety tips in order to minimize the chances of an incident, though several themes seem to be underscored. Those are:

  • Take an educational boating safety course to enhance your knowledge of boat operation and navigation
  • Make certain the vessel is equipped with everything needed prior to heading out. That includes life jackets, flashlights, emergency repair kits, paddles, maps, flares, radios, cell phones, etc.
  • Instruct all passengers to wear lifejackets and to remain seated at all times when the boat is in motion.
  • Avoid areas where swimmers are present. If that isn’t possible, be sure to keep a watchful eye on them.
  • Make sure there is enough fuel on board before leaving the dock.
  • Never operate an inflatable boat if you are sick or under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

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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