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Maritime law (also commonly referred to as Admiralty law) refers to the legal parameters surrounding incidents occurring on the water (oceans, inlets and intracoastal waterways) and usually involve recreational boats, cruise ships, and jet skis, etc.). There is usually a sense of calm and relaxation associated with spending an afternoon out on a boat or a week on a cruise ship, but when it comes to the risks associated with the unsafe operation of boats, the calm can seem to evaporate (so to speak). Maritime law is an especially important type of law to familiarize yourself if you are a resident of the southeastern most state – Florida has more boating accidents than any other state in the country.
There’s no surprise about that, of course. Boating is part of the Sunshine State’s innate culture. That said, it may come as a surprise that Florida has some of the most relaxed requirements when it comes to certifications for boating operators. Now, in order to obtain a Florida boating license, you can register for and take the exam online! Imagine if airline pilots simply had to take an online test in order to receive their FAA license? Without rigorous testing of boating operators, unsafe boaters are all around. Furthermore, important safety precautions are not always required. While safety jackets are required on board, they’re not always used. Even more infrequently used are “kill switches.” Kill switches are pieces of lanyard attached from the boat operator to the engine of the boat, allowing the boat operator to “kill” the engine in the need of an impromptu emergency.
The safety of the boat’s passengers always lies with the captain and operator of the ship. Whether you’re the captain of a cruise liner or of a two-person sailboat, you, as the operator of the boat, are responsible for any and all passengers on-board. This is because many of the incidents that happen on the sea are caused by maritime events about which the other passengers are even more uneducated than the captain. How should you maneuver the boat if you see a wave approaching on the right? What should you do if three speedboats pass in front of you, causing enormous waves that would inflict damage on your small boat? What happens if a storm moves in over you? These are questions that the captain should have the answer to.
Florida gives special attention to the role of the ship’s operator—the captain—in chapter 327 of the Florida Statutes. Law requires the ship’s operator to operate the boat in a “reasonable and prudent manner.” Furthermore, the captain is required to provide all possible aid to his passengers, in the event of an accident, before he is allowed to exit the vessel. Following an accident, the ship’s captain is required to contact several local governmental agencies, including the local police department. Failure to do so could result in a finding of guilty of the boat operator of a noncriminal infraction.
In a recent boat accident, we represent a severely injured passenger on a boat. Our client was a passenger on the boat and the operator of the boat decided to try to make it out through a rough inlet leading to the ocean. While trying to make it out through the rough and dangerous inlet, the boat hit rough currents and high waves and our client was injured when he was knocked to the deck of the boat. The operator then decided to take our client to a safer inlet to the south to take him in for emergency medical care. The operator failed to report the accident as required by Florida law.
What did the captain do wrong in this instance? First of all, he should have known that it was unsafe to take the boat out through the inlet he chose. The captain should have had the professional wherewithal to return to shore or to select another inlet to get out to the ocean. Furthermore, when they did return to shore, after the accident, the captain should have alerted police immediately. His negligence not only risked his own life, but it risked the life of his friend who sustained lifelong injuries.
Boating is very much a part of Florida’s lifestyle. We hear about boating accidents all of the time, from the cruise ship crash off the coast of Italy, to our clients boat accident off of the coast of Florida. While the two are vastly different in terms of number of casualties and damage, they do have one similarity: in each instance, the ship’s captain failed to perform his job adequately and responsibly. And, because of the boat captains’ negligence, people got hurt.
For more information about maritime law, or if you believe you’ve been injured while in the care of a negligent boat captain, please contact the Law Offices of Aronberg and Aronberg at 561-266-9191 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.