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As we weather yet another winter storm, our minds wander to the Spring that is just around the corner and the promise of coming sunshine and warmth. Many of us will head South for spring break to get a respite from the long cold winter we have endured.   A trip to warmer climates often involves boating, tubing or that awesome James Bondesque creation the Jet Ski. For us land locked Mid-Westerners these activities are exciting but often not something we do very often.   Us land lubbers need to remember to reign in our enthusiasm and take caution and use good judgment before diving into the joys of the ocean . Drowning and trauma caused by collisions are the two most common injuries affecting water travelers. Operator inattention, improper lookout, operator inexperience and excessive speed are also among the top contributing factors in boating accidents.

According to a 2013 report by the U.S. Coast Guard, there are over 4,000 boating accidents in the U.S. annually, involving over 500 deaths, 2600 injuries and over $39 million dollars in property damage. The majority (77%) of known causes of death was drowning, and in over 80% of these cases the victim was not wearing a life jacket. Our law firm has seen way too many tragic examples of people being injured or killed in boating and watercraft accidents that could have been avoided. Most boating and jet ski accidents are entirely preventable. Before getting on the water, review these basics:

  • Life Jackets are Not Negotiable. The numbers don’t lie – life jackets save lives – simple and obvious. Think of a life jacket like a seatbelt. Also, be sure it’s a fitted, coast-guard approved jacket. The kids will whine and not want to wear them; you need to be the example.
  • Fear the Beer. Alcoholic beverages are a common part of fun on the water, yet they play a huge role in so many boating accidents. State laws treat a BUI (Boating Under the Influence) similar to a DUI and if you are caught it could affect your driver’s license.  There is a bizarre phenomenon that occurs with boating that people, who would never think of getting behind the wheel of a car after drinking, somehow think it’s OK to captain a giant boat that they are not nearly as familiar with, after downing a six pack. Boaters should also have a designated driver.
  • Trained Drivers Only. Proper training as a boat captain is critical. Studies show that “driver error” accounts for 75% of boating accidents. The Coast Guard study shows that very few deaths occurred in cases where the boaters had received boating instruction from a NASBL.
  • Don’t Take Safe Equipment for Granted. No matter how careful you are on the water, if your equipment is faulty, then accidents can strike. Make sure your equipment is in proper working condition by conducting a “Vessel Check” approved course.
  • Conditions Matter. If the area is too crowded or the weather turns troublesome, play it safe and call it quits. It’s not worth it.
  • Be a Grown-Up. Although in some states one only needs to be 11 years old to operate a jet ski, in many states one must be 16. The personal watercraft industry recommends that jet ski riders be at least 16 years old. Every kid is different, be careful with kids and Jet Skis.

Another water-based sport that is up on their on the high-risk meter is parasailing. Last summer, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) conducted an investigation which confirmed it’s a largely unregulated industry with serious accidents caused by faulty equipment. They identified numerous concerns which included operators who continued to operate in less-than-ideal weather conditions, use of inadequate equipment and compromised rope strength. The NTSB has since recommended that the U.S. Coast Guard implement a special license for parasail operators, along with numerous other recommendations to the FAA and the NASBLA.

Whether boating on spring break, or during a summer at Lake of the Ozarks, accidents happen. Victims of accidents caused by a drunken or reckless boater can claim compensation for their medical costs, lost income, and pain and suffering. At Devereaux, Stokes, Fernandez & Leonard in St. Louis, Missouri, we are strong advocates for victims of boat accidents and we work with determination to obtain full and complete compensation for our clients’ losses. If you or a loved one has suffered losses as the result of a boating accident, contact our firm. We want to help you get the compensation and medical care you need to rebuild your life.