There is a certain kind of romance to being on a sailboat. The quiet. The freedom. The adventure. The exercise. The sharp wind and fresh air. The rhythmic movement of the hull.
But there is also an inherent danger for sailors and their passengers, particularly if there is a lack of preparation, education or adherence to basic boating rules. We all know the ocean can be unpredictable. However, the U.S. Coast Guard reports most sailing-related deaths happen when sailors fall in the water while not engaged in dangerous sailing or stormy waters, but rather while they are docking or anchored. In fact, only 26 percent of sailors who perished died while actually sailing.
The lesson: It usually happens when you least expect it.
Sailing injury attorneys at Associates and Bruce L. Scheiner, Attorneys for the Injured, understand that of 736 reportable boating accidents in a recent year, the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) identified 13 of those as having occurred while the vessel was sailing. However, a total of 74 sailboats were identified as having involvement in reportable accidents (eight of those being sail-only vessels with no power).
What this tells us is, here again, a sailboat need not necessarily be in motion for operators and passengers to be at-risk.
When sailboat owners and/or operators fail to take risks seriously, properly prepare for a trip or ensure adequate safety equipment is aboard, those who suffer as a result may be entitled to compensation in civil court.Understanding Sailing
Sailing is a vehicle in which the propulsion, pace and direction of movement through the water is controlled by large foils, also referred to as “sails.” These are usually fabric, by manipulating the rudder, rigging and the keel, operators can manage the wind force on the sail to drive the vessel.
More than other types of boating, sailing requires a keen understanding of sea and wind conditions, as well as specific knowledge of sailboat operation. In South Florida, sailing is typically a recreational activity or sport, with most trips involving daysailing and coastal sailings.
Kitesurfing and windsurfing are other forms of sailing, albeit on smaller vessels.
State and federal regulations for sailboats will depend on whether its size and whether it’s motorized. In general, however, all sailors should:
- Keep a proper lookout at all times.
- Adjust speed to suit the current conditions.
- Know how to react in a close-quarters situation (i.e., whether to “give way” or “stand on”).
Sailing races are popular in many areas where boating is a common pastime, and Southwest Florida is no exception. A number of local boat clubs feature sailing races and other competitions, and usually, these go off without a major hitch.
However, there is always the possibility of peril, and sailors should never let down their guard.
While overall fatalities during sailing races are relatively rare (usually less than a dozen nationally every year, according to the U.S. Coast Guard), the regulator issues dozens of permits for offshore races annually. In some cases, search and rescue missions must be initiated when something goes wrong.
In 2012 in Southern California, a 37-foot Aegean sailboat disappeared off the coast of San Diego during a race. Later, three crew members were found dead and a fourth was missing and presumed dead. Organizers suspect in that case, a larger ship overran the smaller vessel as it sailed near rocky shores.
Just two weeks prior, another sailboat racing tragedy occurred in Northern California off the coast of San Francisco, when big waves tossed seven of eight crew members over the side of a 38-foot sailboat before tossing the vessel up on the rocks. Everyone aboard died.
Two reportable boating accidents in Florida last year occurred in sanctioned races.
Such incidents have prompted many race organizers to be less cavalier when it comes to requirements such as wearing life jackets.
Primary causes of all boater accidents in Florida have been identified by the FWC as including:
- No proper look-out
- Excessive speed
- Operator inexperience
- Operator inattention
- Machinery failure
Other risk factors, such as hazardous waters, hull failure, overloading and improper loading can be especially dangerous for those on a sailboat.
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.