Florida Boating Accident Report Puts Spotlight on Maritime Law

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By David Goguen on March 27, 2009 2:50 PM

A report released today pinpoints improper anchoring as the cause of a Florida boating accident that is presumed to have taken the lives of three football players. A fourth man survived the February 28th boating accident. The proper operation of boats and other watercraft -- and any injuries caused by boating mishaps -- is governed by maritime (or admiralty) law.

In the report released Friday, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission concludes that the football players' boat capsized as a result of improper actions taken after the boat's anchor became caught underwater. According to the report, the men tied the anchor's rope to the side of the boat, and then throttled the motor in an attempt to free the anchor, but the vessel flipped over. The report also cites "failure to leave enough slack anchor line to compensate" for the weather and water conditions. Read the full report from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.  

The operation of all watercraft -- such as the 21-foot motorboat involved in the accident -- is regulated under a distinct system of federal law known as admiralty (or martime) law.  Maritime law applies to almost all activities that take place on "navigable waters," meaning the ocean, as well as most lakes and rivers. So, any injury suffered on board a boat or personal watercraft would likely be governed by federal maritime law (rather than the typical civil laws and precedential rules that apply to most personal injury cases, like car accidents or slip and fall cases). This includes recreational boating accidents, jet-ski accidents, and even illnesses suffered by passengers aboard cruise ships. Learn more about Maritime Law and Recreational Boating Accidents.