In our last blog, our firm reported a weekend boating accident in North Carolina that claimed the life of a 17-year-old teen and left a man in his 30s critically injured. Though authorities have yet to comment on what caused the crash, what we do know thus far is that the victims were riding in a 14-foot jon boat when the vessel crashed into a channel marker piling. There are many times when an accident involving a watercraft results from the craft’s operator’s own negligence in abiding by proper maritime safety laws, and other times when factors that cannot be controlled (such as inclement weather) are to blame. However, there are times in which the very laws and tactics that are put in place to prevent boating accidents in open waters are what actually cause the accidents themselves.
Accident reports show that the victims struck a waterway marker piling, but could the actual markers have been what contributed to the crash in the first place? There’s a very real chance that they could have. Let’s explore the possibilities.
Waterway Marker Basics
In order to understand how waterway markers could have contributed to the accident, it’s important to learn how waterway markers work in the first place. Waterway markers are a form of navigation aid that provide boaters with information about the area they are sailing in. Similar to street signs, traffic lights and road barriers, markers are put in place to maintain safety across water channels and prevent accidents. Some markers are put in place to warn boaters of adverse water conditions and other dangers in the area, others display maritime laws such as maximum speed, and others provide boaters with useful information, such as the distance to the nearest marina. Much like street signs, markers feature a variety of symbols, each dictating the type of restriction.
There are several types of water markers, but the two main types are buoys and beacons. Buoys float on top of the water but are moored to the bottom of the waterway. Beacons, on the other hand, are permanently fixed. Both buoys and beacons can come in a range of sizes, shapes and colors and may or may not have a light affixed on top. Another common type of marker is called a dayboard, which is a type of informational signboard.
Waterway Marker Regulations
Each state has its own set of rules when it comes to the installation of waterway markers, which may include buoys, dayboards and cans. For example, Florida boating laws are governed by both state and federal authorities. Federal maritime laws are enforced by the U.S. Coast Guard.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) sets the standards for marking regulatory zones so boaters can easily recognize and understand the regulations displayed on the markers. Without uniform marker standards, boaters sailing across different waterways may pass through various jurisdictions, each enforcing their own unique marker laws. This, in turn, leads to confusion among boaters and possible accidents. Aside from having to maintain uniformity, maritime regulations in Florida also require waterway markers to be properly placed, maintained and must not create a hazard for boaters.
North Carolina abides by similar standards. The state follows the U.S. Coast Guard’s Uniform Waterway Marking System (United States Aids to Navigation) when installing markers to aid boaters in navigating safely around channels and inform them of areas of impending danger.
But while water markers are just some of the many aids to navigation that can improve safety for boaters and others enjoying a day out on the water, the unfortunate truth is that even the best of safety ideas can backfire. When an aid to navigation is not installed according to regulation standards or is not properly maintained, the effects can be disastrous.
In our next blog, we’ll discuss how waterway markers can pose a threat to boaters and why it’s important for anyone who is involved in a watercraft accident to contact a boating accident attorney for help.