Missing Florida Boating Accident Teens’ Phone and Boat Found

Lipcon, Marguiles, Alsina & Winkleman, P.A

Last July, we talked about a tragic boating accident in Florida involving two teenage boys. The cause of the accident was never determined, nor were the bodies of the victims found. However, news reports have shown that the teens’ boat and an iPhone have recently been recovered.

According to CBS News, the boat used by the two teens has been found and positively identified – along with one of the victim’s iPhones. The boat, a 19-foot long single-engine Seacraft vessel, was lost at sea on July 24, 2015. The teens, Perry Cohen and Austin Stephanos, both 14, were never recovered. However, the recent discovery can hopefully provide answers to some of the crucial questions surrounding the tragic boating accident.

The boat, which belonged to Stephanos’ father, was discovered in March off the coast of Bermuda. It was found floating in a shipping lane by the crew of the Norwegian multipurpose supply ship, Edda Fjord, who also removed the vessel from the water. Several items belonging to the victims remained inside the boat, including the cell phone.

The boat has been shipped to the U.S. from Norway and is expected to arrive next month. The personal effects found aboard the vessel will also be returned to the victims’ families. The boat will be examined by authorities before it is returned to the family.  The family hopes that with the discovery of the vessel and phone, authorities will be able to uncover new details as to what could have possibly caused the fatal boating accident.

The boat was initially found just days after the teens went missing off Florida’s Atlantic coast. A data marker buoy was attached to the boat since it was well below the surface, but the vessel drifted away by the time investigators arrived at the scene with salvage equipment. The buoy also malfunctioned, preventing investigators from locating it until the Edda Fjord crew pulled it from the water. Investigators did initially find one life jacket in the water, but it was never determined whether or not either of the boys had been wearing flotation devices at the time of the boating accident.

Though authorities closed the investigation, the young victims’ families continued rescue efforts in a private search. They were last seen at around 1:30 on the day of the accident after stopping for fuel at a marina in Jupiter, Florida. The boys, who were in frequent communication with their loved ones, were reported missing when communication ceased suddenly.

Many believe rough weather on the day of the boating accident played a role in the boys’ disappearance. A squall hit the area where the boys were sailing shortly after they departed, which could have caused the vessel to become disabled or to capsize. Yet, the boys were experienced sailors. Even though they were only 14, they were legally able to operate the vessel. As per Florida boating laws, the minimum age to operate a watercraft in the state is 14. All that is needed is for the prospective sailor to pass a boating safety course and obtain a safety ID card.

Still, the boating accident raised concerns as to whether 14 is too young of an age to be legally allowed to man a vessel without adult supervision and whether boat safety laws should be improved. As our boating accident lawyers know all too well, tragedy on the high seas can strike at any minute – especially here in Florida where weather often changes abruptly. Even adults with decades of experience operating watercrafts can still succumb to serious boat accidents and injuries.

Regardless of the maritime laws in place, safety is always greater in numbers. It is always wise to accompany minors when operating any kind of watercraft, be it a boat or jet ski. It is also critical to ensure everyone who will be spending time in open waters – no matter how old – wears a life jacket. Tragedy can strike at any moment, but there are many ways to increase the likelihood of survival if certain safety measures are employed.