Jet skis and other personal watercraft (PWC) are extremely popular in Florida. According to data from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), there are more than 164,000 registered PWCs in the state. Unfortunately, this means that there are lots of PWC accidents in Florida each year as well, and, as a result, many people find themselves in need of an experienced jet ski accident lawyer.

If you have been injured in a personal watercraft accident, or if a member of your family has been seriously injured or killed, there is a lot you need to know. While it will be possible to recover your losses from a PWC accident in many cases, doing so requires a clear understanding of the laws and regulations that apply. Here are some key statistics on Florida PWC accidents, as well as an overview of the key laws and regulations that apply:

Florida Personal Watercraft (PWC) Accident Statistics

The FWC publishes an annual report on personal watercraft accidents in Florida. Here are some of the most notable statistics from the FWC’s most recent report, Personal Watercraft Accidents, which includes data from 2021:

  • Total Number of Registered PWCs in Florida: 165,385
  • Number of Personally-Owned Registered PWCs: 159,660
  • Number of Registered Rental PWCs: 4,521
  • Number of Reported Personal Watercraft Accidents in 2021: 195
  • Number of Reported PWC Accident Injuries in 2021: 162
  • Number of Reported PWC Accident Fatalities in 2021: 17
  • Florida’s PWC Accident Rate in 2021: 1 Accident Per 843 Registered PWCs

According to the FWC’s data, the following counties have the most registered PWCs—and, in most cases, the highest totals of PWC accidents:

  • Miami-Dade County: 19,171 registered PWCs
  • Broward County: 12,160 registered PWCs
  • Pinellas County: 11,380 registered PWCs
  • Palm Beach County: 7,450 registered PWCs
  • Lee County: 6,349 registered PWCs
  • Collier County: 4,546 registered PWCs
  • Okaloosa County: 4,166 registered PWCs

It is important to note that the FWC’s statistics only reflect registered personal watercraft and reported PWC accidents. As a result, it is likely that the true numbers are far higher than those outlined above.

While the FWC reports that PWCs account for 16 percent of all registered vessels in Florida, they account for 28 percent of all vessels involved in accidents on the water. This means that PWC accidents happen at a much higher rate than accidents involving bowriders, center consoles, pontoons and other recreational vessels. While some PWC accidents are undoubtedly the result of operator error, many of these accidents involve dangerous boat wakes, collisions with other vessels, PWC defects and maintenance issues, and other factors that are beyond PWC operators’ control.

This fact is reflected in the FWC’s statistics on when most personal watercraft accidents occur. According to the FWC, of the 195 reported PWC accidents in 2021, 166 occurred when PWC operators were “cruising” or “drifting.” Just 47 accidents involved PWCs changing direction, and only 27 accidents involved PWCs changing speed. Wake jumping and surf jumping accounted for 11 PWC accidents in 2021, and the remaining 15 accidents resulted from various other factors. The FWC breaks down the leading causes of PWC accidents in Florida as follows:

  • Collisions with other vessels: 101 accidents
  • Collisions with fixed objects: 46 accidents
  • Falls (either on the PWC or overboard): 45 accidents
  • Capsizing: 7 accidents
  • Grounding: 7 accidents
  • Collisions with floating objects: 4 accidents
  • Accidents involving other factors: 17 accidents

Florida’s Personal Watercraft (PWC) Regulations

Like all vessels and vessel operators, personal watercraft and PWC riders are subject to several regulations in Florida. In many cases, PWC accidents happen when either: (i) a vessel owner fails to comply with the state’s regulations; or, (ii) a vessel operator ignores his or her responsibilities on the water. Ignorance of Florida’s vessel regulations is not an excuse, and when a vessel owner or operator violates Florida’s PWC or boat regulations, the owner or operator can be held liable in the event of a collision.

Some examples of Florida’s personal watercraft regulations include:

  • All PWC operators must be at least 14 years of age. Individuals must be at least 18 years of age to rent a jet ski or other personal watercraft in Florida. Knowingly allowing a person under the age of 14 to operate a PWC is a second-degree misdemeanor.
  • All individuals who are operating, riding on or being towed behind a jet ski or other PWC must wear an approved non-inflatable personal floatation device (PFD).
  • Personal watercraft operators must wear their PWC’s engine cutoff switch lanyard (if equipped) at all times.
  • It is unlawful to operate a PWC from 30 minutes after sunset to 30 minutes before sunrise in Florida, even if the PWC is equipped with navigation lights.
  • “[W]eaving through congested vessel traffic, jumping the wake of another vessel unreasonably close or when visibility around the vessel is obstructed, or swerving at the last possible moment to avoid collision” is a first-degree misdemeanor under Florida law.

Personal watercraft operators must also comply with Florida’s regulations that apply to all types of vessels. These include regulations that restrict speed, prohibit boating under the influence and prohibit various other reckless and dangerous behaviors.

If you or a loved one was involved in a personal watercraft accident involving another PWC operator who was violating Florida’s PWC regulations—or any of the other laws and regulations that apply to operating a vessel on Florida’s waters—a jet ski accident lawyer can use this to seek just compensation on your behalf. Likewise, if you or a loved one was involved in a collision with a boater who violated Florida’s boating regulations, your lawyer can use this as well. In any case, the key is to investigate the accident as soon as possible, and, as a result, you should discuss the accident with a lawyer promptly.

Talk to a Jet Ski Accident Lawyer Today

If you need to know more about your legal rights after a jet ski accident in Florida, we encourage you to contact us for a free, no-obligation consultation. Call 800-499-0551 or send us a message online to speak with a jet ski accident lawyer at Brais Law Firm today.

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