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Leading Cause of Florida Boating Accidents is Failure to Maintain Proper Lookout

January 11, 2019 | Category: Boating Accidents | Share

Lt. Seth Wagner from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), Boating and Waterways Section, said, “For 2017, the leading contributor to boating accidents was the operator’s inattention or failure to maintain a proper lookout. It is critical for operators to be diligent in observing and being aware of what is going on around them.”

Leading Cause of Florida Boating Accidents is Failure to Maintain Proper Lookout - Spivey LawIn 2017, 261 Florida boating accidents involved collisions, and 38 percent of all collisions were due to inattention or the operator failing to maintain a proper lookout.

A proper lookout is defined in Rule 5 of the regulations. The rule says, “Every vessel shall at all times maintain a proper lookout by sight and hearing conditions so as to make a full appraisal of the situation and the risk of collision.”

BoatU.S. reported that in September 2015 an accident occurred caused by a U.S. Coast Guard-licensed captain who was delivering a 60-foot boat to a boat show in Norwalk, Connecticut. The captain’s boat ran over a small fishing boat, killing the occupant. At a trial held in the spring of 2016, the captain who hit the boat was found guilty of failing to keep a proper lookout. At the trial, the captain said he had not seen the 23-foot boat.

The nautical rules handbook says, “Responsibility for maintaining a proper lookout lies with the vessel's operator, not with a subordinate designated as ‘lookout.’ The vessel's operator which is master, watch officer, or person in charge is the lookout manager. If the operator can keep a lookout personally, then coordinating the collection and analysis of information is relatively straightforward. But if the operator, that is, the decision-maker, must rely on others to gather the information, then management of a proper lookout becomes more complicated. The operator must ensure that information on the vessel's surroundings is detected in a timely manner and promptly communicated so that he or she can correctly analyze the situation.”

According to, the captain is to conduct a proper lookout by all available means. “All available means” includes, but is not limited to, radar, AIS (an automatic identification system which is a digital VHF radio-based transponder system that can prevent collisions), an automatic radar plotting aid, vessel traffic services, and good reliable binoculars. The captain has to assess the vessel’s needs, make sure everyone tasked with lookout duties has, and knows how to use, the equipment, and knows which information is expected to be delivered to the operator. offers a course on Proper Lookout information which can be accessed here.

“With Florida’s tourism season comes our busiest days on the water. We all must be diligent in protecting our passengers and others on our beautiful waters. Always ‘looking out’ for others is not only the law but also a very sensible activity,” said Attorney Spivey. “Should you or a loved one be injured as the result of the negligence of another, please contact our law firm. We have the experienced team to assist you in determining your rights.”


Fort Myers Boat Accident Attorney, Randall L. Spivey is a Board Certified Trial Attorney – the highest recognition for competence bestowed by the Florida Bar and a distinction earned by just one (1%) percent of Florida attorneys.  He has handled over 2,000 personal injury and wrongful death cases throughout Florida.  For a free and confidential consultation to discuss your legal rights, contact the Spivey Law Firm, Personal Injury Attorneys, P.A., in Lee County at 239.337.7483 or toll-free at 1.888.477.4839, or by email to  Visit for more information.  You can contact Spivey Law Firm, Personal Injury Attorneys, Charlotte County at 941.764.7748 and Collier County 239.793.7748.

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