Florida Party Boats Can Be Deadly

Miami and South Florida are known throughout the world for both their party scene and great boating. People come from all over the world to celebrate spring break, bachelor or bachelorette parties or other events in South Florida, and many choose to go out on the water and party during those occasions. This has only been exacerbated by a newer phenomenon known as boatsharing, which operates much like ride-sharing companies such as Uber or Lyft, except largely without the safeguards, like background checks, provided by those companies. Instead, many unlicensed owners and operators rent out boats semi-illegally through a series of largely unregulated boat-sharing websites.

Although this arrangement does make luxury boats available for those who may not otherwise be able to afford a multimillion dollar yacht and allows them to rent a boat for a day they could never afford in their wildest dream, this is also a very dangerous pastime. Chartering party boats has become something of a phenomenon for both visitors to South Florida as well as South Florida natives themselves. However, as reflected in a recent episode chronicled in the Miami New Times, there is a darker side to this chartering of party boats, given that those who own and operate these boats often have no training, experience or licensure required to carry paying passengers on board the board and to prevent accidents. Although this is often not an issue, sometimes it can prove fatal, like in the story below.

The Recent Miami Party Boat Accident

In the New Times’s report, a 24-year-old Miami native chartered a yacht to celebrate his birthday with friends in April 2018. This was not the first time the man, Cesar Meneses, had chartered a boat for himself and his friends to party. However, when he first saw the 91-foot yacht, it was dirty, and Meneses did not like the look of the boat’s owner or captain. The boat’s owner refused to return the group’s deposit, however, but instead reduced the price and convinced them to take the boat out for their night on the water anyway. The boat left the marina at 4 p.m. on a Sunday with Meneses and his friends.  They started to cruise the harbor and then swung back to the marina to pick up a few latecomers.

However, what Meneses and his friends did not know was that the boat’s captain, who had been hired by the yacht’s owner after only a single audition piloting the boat, had no training or experience in how to operate a boat. Even worse, the boat’s captain did not have the required license and training the U.S. Coast Guard requires for the captains of boats that carry paying passengers. He also had a drug problem: the boat’s owner had taken a video of the captain snorting cocaine shortly before leaving the dock for an excursion with paying customers three days before the fateful April 18 trip and could be heard laughing on the cell phone video.

After the captain picked up the stragglers, he headed for Monument Island, a small landmass near Miami Beach popular for boaters who want to stop and take a dip in the water. The captain stopped the boat, put down the swim ladder and Meneses and his friends got off the boat and began swimming. Meneses’s best friend, Raul Menendez, joined the group. However, without any warning, the captain walked back, picked up the swim ladder and raised it up. He then went to the controls and threw the boat into reverse without even counting to make sure everyone was out of the water. As it turned out, Menendez was still in the water, and was pulled into the propeller and under the boat. Menendez ended up being killed as a result of the captain’s actions, an example of the cowboy culture in the South Florida charter boat scene. The boat’s captain was eventually sentenced to 33 months in prison, but not before first attempting to flee to Panama to escape prosecution.

The Requirements for a Vessel to Carry Paying Passengers

In order to legally operate a vessel that carries paying passengers, the U.S. Coast Guard requires documentation of at least 360 days of boating experience and a passing score on a written exam. There’s also a background check, a drug test and a physical exam required in order to do so. Carrying more than six paying customers comes with the additional requirement of yearly vessel inspections. Either way, all licenses must be renewed every five years, and all captains and crew members on such boats must submit to random drug testing. All boats also must be outfitted with fire extinguishers, distress signals and lifesaving equipment. Because it is expensive and takes time to meet these requirements, many Florida boat owners and operators simply ignore the law and charter their boats anyway. This results in preventable tragedies like the death of Raul Menendez.

Contact the Experienced Personal Injury Attorneys at Schwed, Adams & McGinley, P.A 

Boating accidents are extremely common in Florida, even among those who know what they are doing out on the water.  However, boating accidents occur with greater frequency in Florida than anywhere else in the United States, and there is a high incidence of death and injury in Florida due to boating accidents because of the sheer numbers of boats on Florida’s waters.  However, that danger is compounded when you add party boats and their often-inexperienced captains and owners into the mix.  Raul Menendez should never have been on the water because the captain of the boat in which he was riding should never have been allowed on the water.

Since our experienced personal injury attorneys have more than 150 years of combined practice, the lawyers of Schwed, Adams & McGinley have represented numerous victims of Florida boating accidents and well understand both how often these tragedies occur as well as the devastating impact these tragedies can have on a decedent’s family, friends and loved ones.  If you, a family member or a loved one has been injured or killed in a boating accident, including an accident on a party boat, contact the experienced personal injury attorneys at Schwed, Adams & McGinley, P.A at 877-694-6079 or contact@schwedlawfirm.com for a free consultation today.