Waterskiing Accidents

Waterskiing is a surface water sport, and one in which the rider tends to get all the attention. However, it’s an activity that should be viewed as a team sport. There is the skier, of course. But there’s also the boat operator. Finally, there is the “observer” or “spotter” who is responsible for watching the skier at all times, and conveying any signals or distress to the boat operator.

The operator and observer are key to ensuring safety and survival of the skier.

Waterski injury attorneys at Associates and Bruce L. Scheiner, Attorneys for the Injured, know Florida law only requires an observer for waterskiing when the boat operator lacks a wide-angle rear-view mirror. But in the interest of heightened safety, a wide-angle mirror and at least one observer on board are ideal.

If any member of the waterskiing “team” fails in his or her responsibility, serious injury or even death may result. In these cases, a personal injury attorney may review the facts of the case to determine whether a theory of negligence may be asserted against the boat operator or observer. Injured water skiers may have their ultimate compensation amount reduced if there is a degree of comparative negligence (i.e. he or she shared some of the fault) but the existence of shared fault will not bar recovery entirely in Florida.

It’s important not to underestimate the complication of these cases, which can be more difficult than car accidents when it comes to piecing together facts. Consider that following an automobile collision on the roadway, investigators have the benefit of skid marks, pieces of debris and other location markers to pinpoint the exact place and nature of the crash. The same is not true of water-related crashes. In these situations, wind, current, wave action and tidal movement can move a craft away from the point of impact and damage or destroy key evidence.

Safety Precautions When Waterskiing

Because waterskiing is potentially so dangerous, it’s important for operators and skiers to observe all relevant regulations and safety protocol.

In addition to having an observer on board the boat to look out for the skier’s best interest, it’s also important to ensure the skier has plenty of space. The water beneath should be at least five- to- six-feet deep, and the tow boat should stay at least 100 feet from the dock, the shore, swim areas and other boats. Operators that spot skiers should stay at least 100 feet away. When a skier does not have enough space or if visibility is reduced, the risk of danger is exponentially increased.

Skiers should know how to swim well. This is not a full-proof assurance of safety, but it will greatly improve your odds. State law requires all water skiers to wear an approved personal floatation device (life jacket) and these have been proven to increase the odds of survival in the event of a collision or other accident. Even the best swimmer can quickly drown if he or she is knocked unconscious.

Drivers need to maintain a steady course that is free of any dangers or obstacles for the skier. Clear signals for “Stop,” “Slow Down,” “Faster” “Turn,” “Cut motor” and “Pick me up” should be established prior to heading out.

Other rules as outlined by the FWC include:

  • No one is allowed to water ski at night, specifically between one-half-hour past sunset and one-half-hour before sunrise.
  • Water skiers must wear approved personal floatation devices at all times.
  • Water skiers may not participate in the activity if impaired by alcohol and/or drugs.
  • Operators must avoid pulling skiers close to fixed objects or other vessels.
Common Waterskiing Injuries

According to research by the Journal of Sports Science & Medicine, the most common injuries for water skiers are:

  • Ankle sprains and strains (due to the fact ankles are bound to the skis and falls can place undue pressure on ligaments in an accident);
  • Lacerations to the head and neck (accounting for 10 percent of all waterskiing injuries; other areas of the body are typically covered by a wet suit);
  • Shoulder sprains and strains
  • Concussions

In each of these cases, one’s ability to swim may be impeded, so it’s imperative to always wear a U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket to reduce the risk of drowning.

Barefoot Water Skiing

Barefoot water skiing is one of the many spin-offs of water skiing to have emerged in recent years, and it comes with its own set of risks and injury potential.

Barefoot skiers lack the protection of a barrier between the soles of their feet and their water while traveling an average of 40 mph. Florida is believed to be the birthplace of barefoot water skiing, according to the New York Times, which reported the sport first emerged here in the 1940s.

The activity involves lying flat in the water while holding a tow rope. As the boat picks up speed, the skier folds his or herself in half, gets to their feet, dig their heels into the water and attempt to maintain balance. The most common cause of crashes in these instances are when toes fall below the water.

The national Barefoot Water Ski National Championships are held in Polk City, Fla. every year.

While there is no law state law against barefoot water skiing, boat operator liability may be somewhat reduced if some aspect of not wearing the skis significantly contributed to injuries.

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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