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Labor Day Boating Safety a Key Concern in Florida

Labor Day in Florida means the sun-soaked masses will be spending the day basking along the surf, partying on the sandbars and blasting music on their boats. This year, the crowds on South Florida beaches are expected to be greater than usual, as the economy has bounced back, more people are taking vacations as gas prices are down.

More waterway traffic means a higher likelihood for crashes, especially when alcohol is factored into the mix. But safety officials are particularly on edge this year in the wake of a tragic crash in the Biscayne Bay on July 4th. Although the crash is still under investigation, the post-fireworks collision that killed four and critically wounded several others is believed to have been the result of a combination of impaired boating and heavy traffic.

This was also the same area where, in May, a man was killed trying to help a popular local DJ push a party boat out of a sand bar. The engine was still on, and the man was struck by a spinning propeller. The event had been sponsored by a local alcohol vendor.

Our Fort Lauderdale boating accident lawyers understand this holiday, law enforcement isn’t willing to take any chances. A task force comprised of federal,state, county and city officials has been formed to conduct extra patrols along the coast and in the bays.

It’s especially personal for Key Biscayne Police Chief Charles Press, whose adult daughter nearly lost her leg in a boating accident last year.

Across the state in 2013, the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission tallied nearly 740 boating accidents injuring at least 420 people and killing 62. That’s more than anywhere else in the country. That’s not entirely surprising, given that Florida has more registered boaters than anywhere else in the country. However, it could certainly stand to be far less. We can do better.

Part of the problem is that it remains legal to drink alcohol openly on boats. It is illegal to operate a vessel with a blood-alcohol level of 0.08 percent or higher (or 0.02 percent for someone under the age of 21). But catching offenders is tough on the water. Local marine patrols were significantly pared down during the recession. And there are no breathalyzers on boats, and it’s tough to conduct a reliable sobriety test on a boat that’s bobbing up and down on the water. That means officials usually have to transport the suspected drunk skipper back to shore to administer the BUI test. By then, operators have had a bit of time to sober up. That’s part of the reason only 300 citations were issued in the entire state last year for boating while intoxicated.

Those who are convicted face consequences identical to someone arrested for driving drunk.

Officials say this year, they plan to stick closer to the shoreline, monitoring sandbar activities. Press was quoted as saying the scene in these areas mirrors “Sodom and Gomorrah,” where people believe different rules of conduct are applicable on water than land. However, law enforcement says they are going to be far less likely this year to turn a blind eye to bad behavior. They don’t want to be staring down another tragedy.

Boaters who plan to drink over the holiday weekend are encouraged to designate a sober skipper.

Call Freeman Injury Law — 1-800-561-7777 for a free appointment to discuss your rights.

Additional Resources:
Safety Advocates Call for Florida to Curb Floating Watering Holes, Aug. 26, 2014, By Lizette Alvarez, The New York Times

More Blog Entries:
Father of Four Killed in Pelican Harbor Boat Crash, Aug. 12, 2014, Fort Lauderdale Boating Accident Lawyer Blog

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