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boating accidents
February 18, 2016

We all heard the recent news of that luxury cruise ship that sailed right into weather so horrific that some passengers were fearful for their lives.  So, how was it possible that the cruise line was unaware of the severity of the weather?  Would you take out your boat without checking the weather first?

In our area, we often turn on the morning news and hear that a "Small Craft Advisory" is in effect?  We may all be accustomed to hearing this, but, surprisingly, other than "exercise caution," many boaters really don't know what exactly what a Small Craft Advisory is or that the single red pennant shown below is the standard marine flag indicating that a Small Craft Advisory is in effect.

What is a Small Craft Advisory?

In general, a weather "Advisory" indicates that special weather conditions are present that may cause significant inconvenience and that could lead to life-threatening situations if caution is not exercised.  Thresholds governing the issuance of Small Craft Advisories are specific to geographic areas.  In our area it indicates that sustained winds of 20 to 33 knots (23 to 38 mph), and/or forecast seas 7 feet or greater that are expected for more than 2 hours.  There is no exact definition of what is a "small craft". The guideline is that any vessel that may be adversely affected by the weather conditions of a Small Craft Advisory should be considered a small craft.

Other considerations include the experience of the vessel operator, and the type, overall size, and seaworthiness of the vessel.  In more severe weather conditions, a "Special Marine Warning" may be issued, indicating potentially hazardous weather conditions usually of short duration (up to 2 hours) producing sustained marine thunderstorm winds or associated gusts of 34 knots (39 mph) or greater; potential hail, waterspouts, squall lines, etc.

Avoid Boating Accidents Due to Weather

Aside from determining how nice (or not) your boating day and chances of catching your favorite fish will be, the weather forecast tells you how safe local weather conditions are expected to be.  So, before you get your bait and your gas, make it a habit to check the forecast and think twice before venturing out if a Small Craft Advisory is in effect.  Another place to check is the National Buoy Data Center which allows you to access weather conditions being reported from navigational buoys all over the world, including  wind speeds and direction; wave heights, direction and duration; and air and water temperatures.

Regional Variations in Small Craft Advisories: What Boaters Need to Know

Understanding how Small Craft Advisories differ by region is crucial for boaters. These variations reflect local weather patterns and water conditions. Here's what to consider:

Coastal vs. Inland Water

Coastal areas might issue advisories for conditions different from those in inland lakes and rivers. For example, ocean advisories may focus on tidal influences and offshore winds.

Geographical Specific

Certain regions have unique weather phenomena. For instance, areas prone to hurricanes or typhoons may have more frequent or severe advisories.

Seasonal Differences

The timing and frequency of advisories can vary seasonally. In some areas, advisories are more common during the winter months, while in others, summer storms prompt more warnings.

Local Resources

Highlight local weather services and marine authorities specific to different regions, providing readers with direct access to the most relevant and timely information.

By understanding these regional nuances, boaters can better prepare for safe journeys, ensuring they respect the local conditions and advisories pertinent to their specific boating locations.

Understanding the Legal Implications of Ignoring Small Craft Advisories

When a Small Craft Advisory is issued, it's not just a warning; it's a crucial signal to exercise caution and prudence. Ignoring these advisories can have significant legal consequences:

Liability for Accidents

If you disregard an advisory and an accident occurs, you could be held legally responsible for any injuries or damages. This is especially pertinent if you're carrying passengers.

Insurance Complications

Many insurance policies have clauses that limit coverage during hazardous conditions. Operating your boat during a Small Craft Advisory might violate these terms, leading to a denial of insurance claims.

Negligence Claims

In the event of an incident, ignoring an advisory can be seen as negligence. This increases the likelihood of facing lawsuits or fines.

Regulatory Penalties

In some regions, there are specific regulations that enforce adherence to weather advisories. Non-compliance could result in penalties or even the suspension of your boating license.

As a law firm dedicated to promoting safety and responsibility, we urge boaters to respect Small Craft Advisories. Remember, your decisions on the water can have legal repercussions. Always prioritize safety and be aware of the legal landscape surrounding boating advisories.

Boating Accident Attorneys Sarasota

The attorneys at Heintz Law encourage all boaters to follow safe boating practices.  Weather conditions can go from good to bad quickly in our area, so always check the local forecast before heading out.  Boat owners, remember, you are not only responsible for your own safety, but you are also responsible for the safety of your passengers.  If you have been injured due to someone else's unsafe boating practices, please call us to discuss your legal rights.

Source(s): National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Glossary; Coast Guard Compass, "Small Craft Advisories and Boating Safety", posted October 14, 2009

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