Rules of the Road for Boaters

By Dave Sully

Recently, there has been a disturbing rise in serious accidents involving water craft on Lee County waterways. While there are always cases of boating collisions, especially in congested areas like marinas, narrow channels, and popular gathering spots, major injuries have not been a big issue, but in a period of three days there were accidents which caused a fatality, a life-threatening injury, and a broken bone. All three involved navigational errors.

Two of the incidents involved PWCs (jet skis) in a high busy area off of Ft Myers Beach, while the other occurred in an area in Northern Lee County. It is well-known that one of the allures of jet skis is that they are fast, along with being highly maneuverable. However, compared to other boats, they are small and offer little protection in the event of a crash. Further complicating matters is the fact that many of the jet skis in the Fort Myers Beach area are rentals, which means that the operators often have minimal experience. Thus, despite the best efforts of the rental companies to prepare renters for the experience, there is a risk factor associated with their operation.

The first accident involved a jet skier who was reportedly traveling toward the beach and a pleasure boat that was reportedly traveling parallel to the beach. Navigational rules dictate that when two boats are traveling at an intersecting angle, the boat to the right has the right of way and the other vessel must yield, either by altering course, slowing down, or both. Lost in the flurry of the moment, the jet ski collided with the boat, sending the driver of the jet ski airborne where he made contact with the boat, causing life-threatening injuries. Fortunately, rescuers were able to pull him out of the water and administer first aid, but his ultimate fate is still unknown. A similar incident occurred the following day, resulting in the jet ski operator suffering a broken wrist. The fatality involved a boat running aground and attempts to free it, with tragic consequences.

The object lesson here is that extra care must be exercised when operating water craft in high traffic areas, with the appropriate reduction in speed and being mindful of other nearby craft. The Lee County Sheriff’s Marine Unit cautions boaters not to assume anything about the actions of other vessels, especially when it comes to navigational rules and to adhere to channel markers, while also being keenly observant when operating in unfamiliar waters. Doing so won’t prevent all accidents, but could greatly decrease the potential for serious injury.