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Do You Have The Required Number Of Life Jackets For Your Boat?

Do You Have The Required Number Of Life Jackets For Your BoatFlorida enjoys a mild, warm climate and temperature all year round, it’s no surprise that water-related activities are one of the most common and popular pastimes in the state. With sun, warm weather, and a good chunk of the state surrounded by ocean, it just makes sense to take to the water either in large luxury watercraft, or getting in some adrenaline on a single, personal, high speed vehicle.

But there’s one aspect of enjoying the water that a lot of people forget about. Worse, they may remember, but deliberately ignore it for the sake of convenience or fashion. This aspect is, of course, water safety, and the fact that life jackets are required on boats.

Present But Not Required

One thing that is clear about Florida law and lifejackets is that they must be present on watercraft. If you’re wa-ter skiing, or on a vehicle like a jet ski, or any other personal water vehicle then the life jacket must also be worn. However, when it comes to children, any child under the age of six MUST wear a life jacket, especially if the size of the craft is under 26 feet.

When it comes to adults, things are far less rigid. While life jackets must be legally present on watercraft, there are plenty of occasions where people don’t have to wear them, and won’t be penalized by the law. Bigger pleasure craft like yachts can even allow children on board without having to wear lifejackets even when the boat is underway.
This means that while the law does require the owners of boats to have proper safety equipment for passen-gers, the decision for adults to use those safety measures still lies with each individual. This is where things can get potentially complicated in a personal injury or even wrongful death lawsuit.

The Missouri Tragedy

In July of this year, a “duck boat,” that is, an amphibious vehicle capable of traveling on roads, then going off-road, entering the water, and continuing as a watercraft, sank to the bottom of a Missouri lake, costing the lives of 17 people. The state of Missouri, similar to Florida, has requirements for lifejackets to be present on boats. Also, like Florida, Missouri does not necessarily require those life jackets to be worn, especially on commercial vehicles, such as this tourist duck boat.

Tragically, when the incident occurred, it was confirmed that passengers on board the duck boat were not wear-ing their life jackets. The company that offered the duck boat tours, as well as the duck boat manufacturer are now embroiled in a lawsuit due to the decision to take the duck boat into the water when storm conditions were apparent, with a boat that had known defects with regards to storms.

So while the groups involved can—and are—being sued for negligence and defective products in lawsuits, it’s far less certain whether there can be any legal action with regards to the life jackets. Missouri law does state that when hazardous conditions are present, life jackets should be worn, but as always, it’s difficult to resolve what actions were or weren’t taken in a crisis situation.

Your Legal Situation

This is why, if you’re thinking of taking to the water, looking at the weather report should always be an important first step. But beyond that, always make sure that you’re compliant with Florida law about having the required number of life jackets on board your boat. It can mean the difference between an accident due to a foolish decision, or an accident you could be held legally responsible for.

If, for example, you took friends out on the ocean on a sailboat, yacht, or other vessel and decided not to bring life jackets, you are immediately in trouble. If something should happen during that trip, such as a collision with another boat that results in people being thrown overboard, if they should drown because of the lack of life-jackets, there’s a strong chance that surviving family members would hold you responsible. After all, the law required that you have safety devices available, and you deliberately ignored that, so that’s a very provable instance of negligence.

On the other hand, if life jackets are available, and passengers refuse to wear them, then one of the passengers, while drunk, jumps into the water, things may turn out differently. If they still refuse a life jacket, and then drown, despite your attempts to rescue them with the legally required throwable device that should also be on board, then it’s clear in this case that you took all the legal precautions, and did whatever was in your power to render aid to someone that had voluntarily not worn a safety device. And that is a very different scenario from the type of negligence that can lead to a personal injury or wrongful death lawsuit.

Attorney Bernard F Walsh

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