Two 2014 South Carolina Boating Accident Deaths Prompt State Senators to Propose Improvements to Maritime Safety Laws

Lipcon, Marguiles, Alsina & Winkleman, P.A

boating accidentAny boating accident attorney at our firm can tell you that though there are several maritime laws across the United States that were enacted with the purpose of regulating safety on open waters, tragic accidents continue to occur. Sometimes, the laws in place are not strict enough and do not sufficiently protect the safety of boaters. Other times, boaters ignore these laws and engage in reckless actions, such as drinking while boating or speeding, which can lead to serious – if not fatal – outcomes.

Unfortunately, many boating accident victims are unaware of their rights – especially rights concerning their safety and rights to take action following injury or loss of a loved one. However, the parents of two young women who were killed in unrelated boat accidents in Lake Marion last year in South Carolina took a stand, hoping that their tragic experiences can call attention to the dangers of boating, as well as lead lawmakers to improve maritime safety regulations in the state.

And, it appears as though their efforts have proved successful. A recent news report explains that two state senators have already proposed safety regulations they believe will allow boaters to enjoy their time in open waters, while also (and most importantly) allowing them to remain safe.

One of the legislators, Sen. Thomas McElveen (Sumter), has proposed a bill that will require boaters to operate their vessels at a “no wake” speed (idle speed) in the evening, when many accidents at sea tend to occur. The idea was prompted by the death of 21-year-old Hailey Bordeaux, who was fatally injured in a July 4 boating accident on Lake Marion. Hailey’s father, Shawn Bordeaux, explains his daughter and two friends were riding in a vessel when they were struck by another boat at around 12:30 AM. In her honor, Sen. McElveen has named the legislation “Hailey’s Law.”

As it currently stands, there is no actual speed limit for boaters in South Carolina, and operators are merely required to travel at a “safe” speed. But what does “safe” really mean? How fast is too fast? When it comes to boat safety regulations, these are critical questions that need to be answered. Hopefully, the new bill will help to lower the frequency of nighttime boating accidents – as well as call to attention the need to improve overall maritime safety measures in the state.

The second Lake Marion tragedy sparked another legislator, Sen. Kevin Johnson (Manning), to ask the Department of Natural Resources to look into the state’s boating safety regulations and conduct public hearings on safety to educate other boaters on the dangers of engaging in negligent behaviors in open waters.

Sen. Johnson’s actions were motivated by the death of 19-year-old Millicent McDonald, who died following a jet ski accident at the lake in May, 2014. Mellissa Grice, the victim’s mother, is hoping legislators will propose a “Milli’s Law”, requiring officials to administer breathalyzer tests to watercraft operators involved in fatal accidents – a practice which is currently is not required in South Carolina, despite the fact that statistics show alcohol consumption is believed to have been responsible for roughly half of all state recreational boating accident deaths in the past 10 years.

These tragic accidents highlight the need for increased boating safety regulations, not just in South Carolina, but across the entire United States. Here in Florida, our boating accident lawyers have seen far too many individuals fall victim to recreational boating accidents – many of which could have been prevented had operators abided by proper safety laws or engaged in more prudent actions while in open waters. We cannot stress the importance of maintaining a safe speed whether operating a boat or jet ski, refraining from alcohol consumption, and avoiding other life-threatening behaviors. It is equally important for anyone enjoying water activities to wear a life jacket. In the event of an accident – no matter what the contributing factor – a life jacket is often the only protection an injured victim has to stay afloat until rescue teams arrive.