Floating Cooler Saves Lives of Boaters

Eight relatives decided to go out fishing on a 22-foot boat despite a small craft advisory warning of poor weather conditions. The small pleasure craft encountered seas of 7-feet plus, and winds up to 38 miles per hour. It is reported that two waves hit the boat one after the other, which resulted in capsizing the 22-foot boat. One of the passengers, a 79-year-old woman, died during the incident. Remarkably, it was a small blue water cooler that was onboard the boat that provided the floatation device for four women, including a four year-old child. The remaining three men were found holding on to the capsized boat, with its bow protruding only a few feet out of the water. They were able to hold on for approximately 20 hours before they were rescued. There were reports of exhaustion, jellyfish stings and hypothermia.

The 79-year-old woman who died was the mother of one of the passengers who reported that his mother died in his arms minutes following the capsizing of the boat. He couldn’t hold on to her any longer due to exhaustion after she died.

A commercial fisherman was in the area when he spotted a large object floating in the water. As he approached, he saw a man waving and it was one of the men holding on to the sunken boat. As he approached he realized there were three men. After the men were found, the Coast Guard was called immediately. The Coast Guard then found the women who were hanging on to the small 2-1/2 foot cooler, including the four-year-old girl.

The survivors were taken to a hospital and reported as exhausted, and swollen from the jellyfish stings, as well as dehydrated. However, none of them were reported to have suffered life threatening injuries. They were all very fortunate to have survived.

A representative of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Committee, the agency responsible for investigating boating accidents here in Florida, said “they shouldn’t have been out there”. The small craft advisory warning should have resulted in a decision not to go boating in such adverse conditions. Another factor the agency was considering was the fact that the small recreational boat was overcrowded.

Boating accidents in Florida occur at a high frequency. See the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Statistical Report.

Our firm continues to be safety advocates for passengers and crewmembers injured in all types of boating accidents, including accidents on yachts, cruise ships and recreational boats.