A Waverunner is a type of personal watercraft that many liken to a motorcycle in that it’s small, fast, maneuverable and seemingly fairly simple to use. The operator climbs aboard, switches on the ignition and twists the throttle and can be at full speed in seconds.
The problem, as the watercraft injury attorneys at Associates and Bruce L. Scheiner, Attorneys for the Injured, recognize is Waverunners are just as dangerous as motorcycles. These vessels can operate at speeds of up to 65 miles-per-hour on the water, racing alongside much larger boats and easily tossing passengers precariously off the back. What’s especially problematic is these watercraft require little to no experience to operate.PWC Regulations
Florida law allows children as young as 14 to operate personal watercraft – including Waverunners. There is no licensing requirement for any boater in the state. However, there is a mandate for those born on or after Jan. 1, 1988 to complete an approved boater safety education course if operating a vessel with a motor of 10 horsepower or greater.
But there can be exemptions to these safety rules. For example, a 14-year-old without a boater safety education course could legally operate a Waverunner, assuming he or she was operating in a private lake or pond or if the operator was accompanied by a passenger who was at least 18 and had either taken the course or was exempt from it. It’s also allowable within the first 90 days from the date of purchase, which seems to us the most dangerous. The idea is to give boaters time to take the course. However, lack of inexperience with the vessel is one of the top contributing factors to personal watercraft crashes, according to the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission.
In 28 percent of all personal watercraft accidents in 2013, the agency reports operators were 21 or under (8 percent were between the ages of 14 and 17). Plus, in 42 percent of all accidents involving these type of vessels, operators had less than 10 hours of experience. Additionally, 59 percent of operators involved in accidents said they had no boater education.
Boaters who have no education are more likely to crash not only because they are unfamiliar with the craft, but they are often not up to speed on the “rules of the road.” Florida’s boating scene is a lively one, and it’s rare that a vessel won’t be sharing water space with another. Chances of a collision increase when one operator is unfamiliar with his or her responsibilities in the course of an encounter.
The top primary causes of personal watercraft accident, as assessed by FWC, are:
- Operator inexperience
- Excessive speed
- No proper look-out
- Operator inattention
- Sharp turns
- Machinery failure
Lee County had one of the highest rates of personal watercraft accidents in the state. The county has a total of 4,525 personal watercraft registered as of 2013, and there were five accidents that year resulting in nearly $20,000 in damage.
In total throughout the state in 2013, there were 137 personal watercraft accidents resulting in 125 injuries and 10 fatalities. That means virtually every accident resulted in either injury or death.Waverunner Liveries
While 90 percent of the registered personal watercraft in the state are owned by private households, a much larger percentage of those involved in accidents are either rented or borrowed.
Of those personal watercraft involved in accidents in 2013 in Florida, 28 percent were borrowed and 43 percent were rented from a livery. Just 29 percent were owned by a private household.
This indicates liveries of Waverunners, Jetskis and Sea-Doos tend to have a poorer safety track record. They have a long history of failure to go over the necessary safety and operating instructions before releasing the machines to vacationers, and they also negligently fail to adequately supervise.
Florida statute does not allow these facilities to rent, hire or lease any personal watercraft or offer to do any of these unless it first secures sufficient insurance from a licensed carrier, insuring against any accident, loss, property damage or other casualty. At minimum, these insurance policies have to carry $500,000 per person and $1 million per event.
In reality, damages resulting from a Waverunner accident may far exceed that amount, as some common injuries related to such accidents include:
- Bone fractures
- Cuts and bruises
- Neck injuries
- Spinal cord injuries
- Back injuries
- Internal injuries
- Head injuries and brain damage
This is why it’s critical to have an experienced Fort Myers boating accident lawyer on your side, fighting to ensure you receive just compensation.
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.