On Friday, February 21, Robert M. Strickler, 83, who was visiting from York, Pennsylvania, died in a boat crash in the Florida Keys.
Authorities say Strickler’s boat was anchored while he fished, and was struck by another boat running on autopilot. The operator of that boat and a passenger, as well as the operator of Strickland’s anchored boat, suffered minor injuries.
Strickler was an attorney who belonged to the York County Bar Association for more than fifty years, and is remembered by friends for mentoring others and fighting for his clients.
“It is with great sadness that we share the news of the passing of Attorney Robert M. Strickler,” the YBCA tweeted Saturday. “Gone from our sight but never from our hearts, he will be truly missed. Our condolences are with his family, friends, and colleagues. Details on services are pending.”
Sadly, boating accidents are not uncommon in Florida. Just the week before Strickler’s accident, a teenager died when the boat he was riding on hit a channel marker off Islamorada and he was ejected from the craft. In 2015, Florida led the nation in boating deaths with 52 fatalities. There are many causes of boating accidents, including distracted pilots, boating under the influence, and mechanical failures.
Crashes like Strickler’s, involving an autopilot, have become more common due to increased use of the technology. According to the BoatUS Marine Insurance Program, Electronically Aided Collisions (EACs) are increasingly problematic. They note that boaters should always have a lookout keeping an eye on things when using the autopilot feature. However, autopilots can be risky even with an experienced lookout at the helm. BoatUS cited one claim where a 37-foot powerboat ran over a 19-foot fishing boat on Lake Michigan, even though the boat operator had left an experienced boater as lookout while he went downstairs to check a map. The lookout simply failed to see the smaller boat—until the powerboat ran into it, throwing three riders into the air and killing one of them.
Last year in San Diego, two boaters had to be rescued after they set the autopilot on their boat and went to sleep. The boat proceeded to crash into a cave off Point Loma, leaving them stranded until rescue crews could arrive.