Florida SCUBA divers and snorkelers face an all too common threat when engaging in their favorite aquatic activity. That threat is negligent boat operators. In most dive accident cases it is found that the boat operator failed to abide by and/or follow regulations that provide for boating restricted areas. Sadly, this failure to follow the law many times leads to injuries, and sometimes, death.
In 2013 alone, Florida’s Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (“FWC”) issued 506 citations for “Negligent Operation of a Vessel.” When including data on all law enforcement agencies (not just the FWC), 642 uniform boating citations were issued for such a violation. The FWC’s Boating Accidents Statistical Report outlines 5 categories that fall within the purview of such a citation: (1) reckless operation of a vessel; (2) careless operation of a vessel; (3) navigation rule violation resulting in an accident; (4) navigation rule violation not resulting in an accident; (5) failure to report an accident. Accordingly, one’s negligent operation of a watercraft may overlap with other violations of safety ordinances.
If 642 citations sounds like a lot, the FWC and other agencies issued approximately 3,800 citations in 2013 alone for “Boating [in] Restricted Areas” including diver safety areas. Section 327.331 of the Florida Statutes includes a safety regulation pertaining to divers and the use of a divers-down flag. In theory, a diver or snorkeler’s display of a divers-down flag should offer them some degree of protection. The statute specifically requires that “[a] person operating a vessel on waters other than a river, inlet, or navigation channel must make reasonable effort to maintain a distance of at least 300 feet from any divers-down flag or buoy. ” In the unfortunate event of a boat coming too close to the divers, the statute also provides that “[a] vessel other than a law enforcement or rescue vessel that approaches within 100 feet of a divers-down flag or buoy on a river, inlet, or navigation channel, or within 300 feet of a divers-down flag or buoy on waters other than a river, inlet, or navigation channel, must proceed no faster than is necessary to maintain headway and steerageway.”
Despite these laws and regulations designed for diver safety, boat operators are often times ignorant of these provisions and do not know how to govern themselves upon seeing a divers-down flag. Others may not even know what the flag looks like altogether. For those engaging in any sort of recreational or commercial maritime activities at sea, always exercise the highest degree of caution because you’ll never know you’ve come across a negligent operator until it’s too late!
The Florida Board Certified maritime attorneys of Brais Brais & Rusak are familiar with these types of cases and the causes that contribute to diving and/or snorkeling accidents. Our personal injury attorneys are experienced with handling dive accident cases and the devastating injuries that are involved. If you were injured in a dive accident and would like to learn more about your legal options, feel free to contact us for a consultation.