Jet Skis, WaveRunners and other types of personal watercraft are known to pack an adrenaline punch, with riders tearing across the surface of the surf at speeds exceeding 65 miles-per-hour.
Associates and Bruce L. Scheiner, Attorneys for the Injured, know the result is too often tragic, particularly when the operator is inexperienced, careless, reckless or simply inattentive.
The U.S. Coast Guard (U.S.C.G.) estimates there are more than 1.3 million personal watercraft registered in the country, and a large portion of those are in Florida.
Perhaps the best-known personal watercrafts are Jet Skis, which are produced by Japanese manufacturer Kawasaki. There are more than a dozen other models, including Yamaha Motor Company’s WaveRunner. The primary difference between these models is on a Jet Ski, riders stand, whereas on most other models, they sit.
The Kawasaki does have newer sit-down models, and even the stand-up models allow for riders to kneel.Long History of Jet Ski Safety Concerns
Although such craft have been around since the 1960s, they began gaining greater popularity in the 1980s and 1990s. It was toward the end of the latter decade safety advocates began to note serious safety deficiencies, with numerous product liability lawsuits cropping up as well.
These lawsuits and independent studies ran contrary to the industry’s staunch claims of consumer safety.
For example, a report by the Consumer Product Safety Commission in 1995 culled information from emergency departments in U.S. hospitals, and found strong indication there were product defects in steering. Specifically, victims facing a crash took their hands off the throttle in order to avoid impact, but this action rendered them virtually unable to steer.
Then in 1997, the American Medical Association published an article indicating the rate of personal watercraft injuries was 8.5 times higher than the rate of those from motorboats.
In 1998, the National Transportation Safety Board issued a report affirmed the steering issues were widespread. That report was later used in a series of product liability lawsuits.
Still during that decade, the use of personal watercraft tripled in the U.S., according to the U.S.C.G. This was true even as several riders sued for serious personal injury when riders (particularly female) fall off the back of the craft and are struck by the craft’s high-pressure water jet, which is powerful enough to push water with extreme force into the rider’s orifices. This can result in severe internal injuries and possibly even death.
In 2000, a study published in the journal Pediatrics focused solely on the dangers of “Personal Watercraft Use by Children and Adolescents.” Researchers pointed out 45 percent of injuries on personal watercraft occurred to those younger than 24, with 7 percent occurring to children younger than 15. Most injuries occurred when personal watercraft collided, either with other vessels or fixed objects. Operator inexperience was cited as a top factor in collisions, and operators who rented the craft were especially at risk. Researchers concluded no one under 16 should ever operate a personal watercraft.
And yet, in Florida, the law allows those ages 14 and older to operate personal watercraft, though they must be at least 18 to rent the vehicles.Florida Statistics and Laws on Personal Watercraft
In Florida, personal watercraft violations comprise a small percent of the total citations issued by the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) each year – 349 in 2013 and 359 in 2012. However, that may be partially due to the fact Florida’s regulations for operation of personal watercraft aren’t strict to start.
Personal watercraft account for 11 percent of all registered vessels in Florida, but were involved in nearly 20 percent of all reportable boating accidents in 2013, including eight deaths. Forty percent of all personal watercraft accidents involved collision with another vessel.
Falls on personal watercrafts were cited in 24 cases as the primary cause of accident in 2013 in Florida, and in 14 cases as the secondary cause.
The following requirements pertain to personal watercraft in Florida:
- Each person operating or riding on or towed behind a personal watercraft must wear an approved life jacket;
- The operator must attach an engine cutoff switch to his or her person, clothing or life jacket;
- Operation of personal watercraft is forbidden one-half hour after sunset to one-half hour before sunrise – even if navigation lights are used;
- Operators who weave through congested traffic or jump the wake of another vessel too close with limited visibility or swerving at the last possible moment to avoid a crash is considered reckless operation, a criminal first-degree misdemeanor;
- Anyone born after Jan. 1, 1988 must have completed an approved boater safety education course in order to operate a personal watercraft.
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.