The popularity of kayaking, and kayak fishing, has exploded in Florida. I have been a kayak angler for over nine years and have seen the sport grow from a few anglers pocketed in particular geographic locations to a statewide phenomenon. A few years ago, information about ocean kayak rigging and techniques was only available through trial-and-error or a close-nit network of fishermen. Today there are multiple magazines dedicated to kayak fishing and fishing shows often showcase the sport. There even is a national kayak fishing tournament where several hundred anglers participate each year. Though avid kayakers find the sport both challenging and rewarding, it is not without additional risk. The biggest man-made danger comes from the interactions between motor boats and kayaks. This is especially so in Florida where there are more registered motor boats than any other state. These two types of vessel operators must live in harmony in order to avoid accidents, injuries and deaths.
I have been involved with some close calls with motor boats whose operators were either not paying attention to where they were going or ignorant of the navigational rules. The photograph appearing at the top right tells such a story. My friend and kayak angling teammate Robinson Rodriguez (pictured above) and I were fishing off Ft. Lauderdale, Florida when I noticed a commercial sport fishing boat coming straight at me. The captain was on the bridge talking on his cell phone paying attention to what was going on in back of his boat and not where he was going. Amazed at the sheer negligence of a professional charter boat captain, I sounded my air horn. The noise got the captain’s attention who immediately altered course. This was good for me but bad for Rob as the fifty plus foot craft was now heading right at him. The fishing boat notices Rob and again altered course missing his kayak by feet. The fishing lines the sportfish was trolling tangled with Rob’s line. The sportfish then started dragging Rob for several yards without so much as slowing down until the lines came free. This is just one near collision of many I have experienced and Florida kayakers have several other stories. We were lucky that day and could have been seriously injured or worse if there was a collision.
This article is intended to explain the proper interaction between motor boats and kayaks by discussing some of the more commonly violated navigation rules along with the civil liabilities should a collision occur.