Tragedy struck a Florida high school student and her father in August in the Poquito Bayou, a small community in Okaloosa County, Florida. The girl and her father were riding on a personal watercraft on Saturday, August 15, 2020, when another personal watercraft ran into them, propelling them and their vehicle into the air. The teen, who was a passenger on the watercraft, suffered injuries to her peritoneal artery, which cut off blood flow to her foot. Her father suffered serious, but not life-threatening injuries to his back and pelvis. Initially, doctors were unsure they would be able to avoid amputating the teen’s leg. However, after undergoing three surgeries, doctors are hopeful the leg can be saved. Both the teen and her father face a long and painful recovery.

The driver of the other watercraft, a vacationer from Georgia, was operating a personal watercraft as part of a guided tour. Additional details about the incident have not been released by local authorities, but the driver was issued a citation for violating a navigational rule.

Personal Watercraft Statistics

According to the U.S. Coast Guard, personal watercraft (PWC) are involved in 600-700 accidents each year. Although personal watercraft make up only 12.5 percent of total registered recreational water vehicles, they account for over 20 percent of reported accidents. Forty-six people died in personal watercraft accidents in 2019, most by drowning.

Driver error is to blame in the great majority of personal watercraft accidents. No training, licensing or experience is required to operate a PWC, and since they are small and relatively easy to operate, they are popular with for vacation rentals. Of the forty-six deaths reported on PWC last year, twelve occurred on rented vehicles. Nearly three quarters of the PWC accidents reported last year involved collisions with other vessels.

The small size of PWC also contributes to their danger. The Coast Guard reported a total of 613 deaths in boating accidents last year. Over 250 of those deaths occurred on vessels under 16 feet in length. Although it may seem counterintuitive, PWC are often more difficult to steer and to stop than larger boats. They also offer less protection for their occupants, making serious injuries more likely.

Not surprisingly, teenagers are more likely to be killed or injured on PWC than on other types of vessels. Parents may assume that a small vessel is easier to handle and less dangerous than a larger boat, but, in fact, the opposite is true.

Over ten percent of all fatal boating accidents in 2019 occurred in Florida, according to Coast Guard statistics. Boating accidents and injuries in Florida alone resulted in over $9 million in property damages.

Safety Tips

Despite the risks, thousands of people operate PWC every day without incident. Following these basic safety precautions can greatly reduce the chances of an accident or injury.

Never allow a child to operate a PWC. Older teenagers should have adult supervision.

Operators and passengers should wear life vests at all times.

Take some time to familiarize yourself with the vessel before taking it out into open water, stay close to shore, learn how to steer and stop the vessel, and make sure you are comfortable with its operation.

Never operate a PWC while under the influence of alcohol or recreational drugs. Do not operate a PWC while using any prescription medication that contains a warning against operating motor vehicles or machinery.

Always wear the safety clip that attaches to the vessel’s key.

Always maintain a safe speed.

Avoid dangerous practices like wake jumping.

Waterways have traffic regulations, just like highways. Learn the rules of the waterway before you go out.


The most common cause of PWC accidents by far is driver error. Common causes of accidents include:

  • Inexperience
  • Excessive speed
  • Unsafe practices, like wake jumping
  • Improper training
  • Driving under the influence
  • Equipment failure and poor maintenance may also be responsible for PWC accidents.

Liability for a PWC accident, therefore, often falls upon the operator. Fortunately, most PWC owners invest in a separate PWC insurance policy. For rented vehicles, rental agencies will almost always require the renter to purchase insurance if not already covered, and the rental agency will carry its own liability insurance. If the operator was part of a tour group, the agency will also carry liability insurance.

Maritime Attorney

PWC accidents, like all boating accidents, are subject to the rules of maritime law, a specialized set of local, state, federal and international laws and regulations. If you are injured in any accident on the water, it is important to seek the advice of an attorney who specializes in maritime and admiralty law. Waiting too long after an accident may affect your ability to recover the full amount of your damages, so call the Florida Board Certified Maritime Law experts at The Brais Law Firm now if you or a loved one has suffered an injury on or by a PWC. We are available for a free consultation at your convenience. Call us any time at 305-709-4117, or 1-800-499-0551.

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