In States like Florida, California, Georgia, Hawaii, and Texas among others, boating is a year round activity. The warm weather and abundance of waterways and surrounding lakes, rivers, ponds, canals, and oceans provide a welcoming enviornment for those seeking to boat, fish, swim, water ski, and otherwise enjoy the day. While boating can be great fun, it can also be dangerous for teens and children especially those who are not properly supervised and / or do not understand or follow basic safety measures. There are just too many risks associated with boating to hand over the full responsibility to a teen or child. Adult supervision is key to preventing injuries including those related to drowning or near drowning incidents. This is especially true when there is bad weather, rough waters, or other conditions that lead to a capsizing incident. It takes a certainly maturity, strength, and experience to properly react when there is an emergency. Because of this, it makes it even more important to have adult supervision during any boating activity. A teen or child may be a champion boater or swimmer. Even for these talented and strong individuals, a U.S. Coast Guard approved life jacket should be worn at all times during boating related activities. It may not be cool or comfortable to wear a life jacket but this one basic safety precaution can and does save lives.
Even with adult supervision, education is key to prevent injuries and drowning incidents for teens and children. The captain / owner of the boat should carefully explain the rules and safety precautions to be followed while on the boat. If a child is going to regularly be a guest on a boat, it may make sense for the child to attend a boating course. Of course, being able to swim is important as well. If a child or teen is going out on a boat, it is better if the child or teen can swim. If not, extra care should be taken to the extent possible to watch over and supervise the child while engaged in boating related activities.
If a child or teen is injured or drowns during boating related activities, is the boat owner liable for such injuries or the death of the child? Well, like most legal issues, it will depend on the particular facts and circumstances of the incident. Let’s take an example. Let’s say a 12 year old friend of the boat owner’s son goes out on the boat for a day of fishing. The boat owner allows his son to take out the boat. There is no adult supervision in place. The boat owner does not contact the parents of the 12 year old for permission to have the child out on the boat. The boat is not equipped with life jackets. The two boys go out for a leisurely day of fishing. Rough weather ended up capsizing the small boat and the 12 year old drowned. The boat owner’s son was later rescued by the Coast Guard. Had the 12 year old been wearing a life jacket, the drowning would most likely have been avoided. Under these facts, there can be a claim or case on behalf of the estate of the deceased child due to the negligence of the boat owner. It should be noted that each case or incident should be evaluated on its own facts and merits. Let’s take another example. A 17 year old boy is invited as a guest on a neighbor’s boat with the permission of his parents. While on the boat, the 17 year old got drunk with alcohol he brought with him from his own house. While horsing around on the boat, the 17 year old slips off the boat. Just prior to falling off the boat, he was wearing a life jacket but decided it would be cooler to go without the life jacket. The boat owner was on the boat at the time and otherwise providing reasonable supervision of the 17 year old and the other teens on the boat. Under this fact pattern, it may be difficult to pursue a case on the theory that the boat owner was negligent in some manner. The 17 year old hid the alcohol by pouring it into a soda bottle. Furthermore, the 17 year old disobeyed clear instructions to keep his life jacket on and to otherwise behalf while on the boat. Of course, more facts will need to be determined to better analyze the potential liability (if any) of a case or claim of this nature. It should be noted that in the State of Florida – a child under the age of 6 years old cannot be held to be comparatively at fault in any manner. As such, any child 6 years of age or older can be held comparatively at fault. Seeing that the actions of a 17 year old are being considered, it is quite possible that 100 % or nearly 100 % of fault may be assessed against the 17 year old.