The recent disappearance of two Florida teens, who went missing shortly after embarking on a fishing trip by themselves, has raised several questions regarding boating regulations in the state and whether or not current boating laws should be amended. Though the victims’ parents insisted that the victims knew what they were doing, had their approval to set off on the boat trip, and had their appropriate certification to operate a vessel, even the most experienced of boaters often encounter dangers at sea they cannot surpass. Given this recent tragedy, one has to wonder if the current age in which individuals are allowed to operate a vessel is, in fact, too young.
In Florida, boaters need only be 14 years of age to navigate a vessel in open waters – the age of both these boating accident victims. According to local law, as long as a prospective boater that is 21 years of age or younger has taken an approved boating safety course and obtained a safety ID card, they are in full right to operate a boat. This is interesting, given that the state imposes significantly different regulations when it comes to the operation of land-based vehicles.
According to the Florida Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), individuals must be a minimum of 15 years to obtain a learner’s permit, must be between 16 to 17 years of age to obtain an intermediate/provisional license, and must be 18 years of age in order to be granted full driver’s license privileges. When a 15-year-old attempts to procure a learner’s permit, they must demonstrate proof that they have completed the Florida Traffic Law and Substance Abuse Education (TLSAE) course. In addition, they must provide their local DMV office with the following:
- A completed Parental Consent for a Driver Application of a Minor Form (Form HSMV 71142)
- Proof of identity
- Social Security number
- Proof of residency
But that’s not all. Once the required documentation has been provided, teens then need to pass a vision, hearing, and DMV test before being granted the privilege to drive.
A learner’s permit only allows teens the ability to drive during the day for the first three months. Afterward, they can drive up until 10 PM. At all times during this period, the teen must be monitored by someone who is 21 years of age or older, sitting in the front passenger seat.
After one year, once the teen turns 16 and only if they have successfully amassed a minimum of 50 hours “behind-the-wheel”, then and only then can the individual move on to an intermediate/provisional driver’s license. Still, restrictions will apply at this point. It isn’t until the driver turns 18 that they can obtain the full privileges of driving without supervision.
In short, getting a driver’s license is a lengthy process.
To a teen, this may seem like an eternity. However, these laws are in place to protect young drivers and other motorists on the road from getting hurt. It makes sense that certain stipulations would be put in place, if they can maintain the safety of all drivers. But if such extensive measures are taken to maintain roadway safety, why then are boating laws so lax?
This is a question that maritime authorities and boating accident attorneys constantly ask themselves.
Though teens must undergo several steps to obtain their official no-supervision-required license, the same rules don’t apply when it comes to obtaining boating privileges. Even the boating safety course requirements can be evaded if there is someone on board the vessel who is 1) not affected by the law or 2) is 18 years of age or older and holds a boater safety ID card.
Sure, this person will be responsible for the safety of the vessel’s operation, but is this enough?
Unfortunately, it’s not up to attorneys to change the laws that are already in place. We can only help those who have been wronged due to safety violations pertaining to these laws. Yet, this tragic boating accident has brought to light the danger in allowing young teens to operate vessels unattended, and hopefully, will result in stricter regulations in the future that can help prevent similar accidents from taking place.