Boating Accident Laws and Injury Settlements

Boating is a wonderful way to relax and have fun in the sun. But that good time can quickly turn bad, as accidents happen with boats often. The US Coast Guard states that there were 4,158 boating accidents in the United States in 2015, with 626 deaths. Those boating accidents also resulted in 2,613 injuries and $42 million in property damage. If you enjoy boating, it is important to have a basic understanding of boating accident laws. You should also know what to expect in the event of an accident, especially if owed a settlement after.

If you or a loved one ended up hurt in a boating accident, you may wonder what your legal rights are. Might you expect compensation for your boating accident injuries? This article lays out the key things to be aware of with boating accident laws, personal injury claims, and settlements.

Negligence in Boating Accidents

The key factor with any type of preventable accident is that of negligence. Negligence as defined under the law is failing to act with ‘reasonable care.” If you sustained injuries on a sailboat or motor boat, you must prove in court that your injuries were due to the negligence of another party. Only if you prove to a judge or jury that the other party was responsible will you recover financial damages. These may include lost wages, medical costs, pain and suffering, etc.

It is the job of your personal injury attorney to prove negligence by the other party. This means they failed to perform their duties of reasonable care in a big boating accident or sailing accident. Accordingly, that failure directly caused your accident injuries.

Common Causes of Boat Accidents

To better understand your personal injury claim, it is important to know some of the common reasons for accidents on the water. How boating accident laws affect your case depend on a number of factors, including how and why the accident took place. In most of these situations, another boat operator may have been negligent. Here are a few examples of circumstances surrounding a boating accident:

  • Inattention by the operator

    The law requires that boat operators be alert and aware of what is going on around the watercraft. If the operator of your boat or another craft is not paying attention and you become injured, this could result in a personal injury lawsuit.

  • Improper lookout

    A lookout is another person who helps the operator of the boat be aware of their surroundings. Without another person keeping watch, it is not uncommon for a boat to strike another boat, person, or property.

  • Inexperienced operator

    The US Coast Guard states that operator inexperience is a very common reason for boat crashes. Operators must understand the basics of operating a boat safely, as well as the navigation rules. They also must be able to handle emergencies as they occur. For these reasons, it is important to know the laws and safety regulations when driving a boat. An underage or under experienced operator is more likely to make costly and harmful mistakes. In some states, there are laws pertaining to how old a person must be to operate a boat.

  • Speeding

    A boat must operate at a safe speed, just as a car should. This gives the operator time to react to other boats and any dangers on the water. If the operator of your boat or another craft is speeding, he or she could be liable for your injuries. And as with land vehicles, unsafe speeds can lead to serious injuries and death.

  • Boating under the influence (BUI)

    Boating while drunk or high on drugs is a common reason that serious injuries and deaths occur on the water. In most states, the legal limit for boat operators is a blood alcohol level of 0.08%. Operating any motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol or drugs is never safe.

  • Failure of equipment

    Maintaining a boat properly is vital for operating the craft in a safe manner. The boat owner must maintain the boat safely to ensure that it is safe for the water. Just as you should regularly tune up your car, boats need routine maintenance to operate safely and efficiently. An engine mishap or a faulty guardrail can lead to serious consequences. If you are using a rented boat and the rental company failed to maintain their equipment, they may be liable for injuries.

  • Breaking navigational rules

    There are rules on traveling through the water, same as on the roads. If another boat does not follow the rules of navigation and hits your boat, he or she may be liable in court. Boat accident laws cover restrictions of certain areas and some local laws may even restrict boating during certain times of day. These laws mean to protect boaters, swimmers, and local wildlife.

  • Dangerous weather and waters

    Water conditions can change fast. Boaters cannot always anticipate some dangerous conditions. However with weather forecasts and understanding weather patterns, boat operators can stay aware of changing conditions. Boat operators must be cognizant of potential water and weather conditions. If an accident occurs under poor conditions, it may be hard to identify liability.

  • Wakes and waves

    Wake refers to the water disturbance behind the boat when it passes. A large wake or wave can cause serious personal injuries. If a boat strikes a big wake or wave, the sudden impact to the boat can cause passengers to fall, potentially overboard. Liability after a boat hits a wake and causes injury is not always clear. This is an instance where having a lookout is important. There are federal and state boating accident laws that require a proper lookout for anything that might cause harm to the boat and passengers, including hazardous wakes.

  • Not Having Required Safety Equipment

    State and federal law requires even small watercraft to have safety equipment. These items include life jackets for all boat passengers, life rings, flares, fire extinguishers. Not carrying required safety equipment may not cause a boating accident. But not having these things can endanger lives after an accident. Lack of essential safety equipment may lead to a personal injury lawsuit against the boat operator.

It is your attorney’s job to show in court that the boat operator was negligent in one or more of the above circumstances. If he is successful, you may receive compensation for your injuries.

Note that boat accident laws require the boat operator to file an accident report when an incident happens on the water. This is a requirement when there is property damage or serious personal injury. However, this often is not done. So if you become injured, you should be proactive and contact law enforcement. In doing so, make sure that the boating accident has been reported. This could be important to your personal injury claim later.

Determining Liability After a Boat Accident

In some boat accidents, it is clear to see who is at fault. For example, a person who was under the influence of alcohol and struck a docked boat is likely fully responsible. But clear liability isn’t always the case. In some accidents, the circumstances can make it hard to determine who was liable. 

Some of the most common types of boat accidents are as follows, as well as who is most often at fault. The matter of establishing who is at fault is essential to determining the verdict in a personal injury settlement.

Your Boat Is Struck By Another Boat

When there is a crash between two boats, it is common for law enforcement to find both operators to be partially to blame. In this situation, you might have a personal injury claim against both boat operators. If a boat operator sustained injuries, he or she typically would have a personal injury claim against the other boat operator. Though this is only if he or she was less than 50% responsible for the crash.

If a motorboat and sailboat collide, it is more common for the motorboat to be at fault. Safe boating practices generally dictate that motorboats should stay clear of slower moving sailboats.

Hitting a Boat’s Wake

As mentioned before, a boat hitting a wake can cause harm and accidents. When a boat hits a big wave or wake, it can have a similar effect to whiplash caused in a car accident. In extreme cases, passengers can even get thrown overboard. But because the boat is not striking a physical object, who is legally to blame in this type of accident is often muddled. If the boat operator was not following safety regulations, such as using a lookout, they may be liable. However, the liability of the boat operator will vary depending upon the following circumstances:

  • Rules and regulations in place
  • The type of boat being used
  • How large the wake was
  • How fast the boat was going
  • The degree of visibility at the time of the accident
  • The amount of boat traffic in the area
  • If any safety precautions were utilized
  • Whether the boat operator attempted to alert passengers of the danger

The boat operators that created the big wave or wake may be negligent as well. For instance, if the accident occurred in a no wake zone, any wake is in violation of the rules. The operator would then be negligent and liable for your injuries. But if the boating accident happened in a remote area, the boat operator may not be liable.

Striking a Submerged Object

Even with superb visibility and weather, a boat can strike a rock, land or other submerged objects. In bad weather with poor visibility, it is easy for boats to hit objects in the water and even run aground. Who is liable depends upon the exact conditions and circumstances. For instance, if the boat operator has charts for that part of the water, was traveling slowly and hit a rock, it is unlikely to find the operator acted with negligence. But if he was speeding in fog, that would be negligent.

Insurance Coverage and Boating Accident Laws

A major challenge of boat accident lawsuits is the matter of insurance coverage. Some states and localities have laws regarding whether or not you need boat insurance. Some marinas may require insurance in order for you to use their facility. If you are renting a boat, the company who owns the boat likely will have insurance of some kind. But since not everyone on the water is always guaranteed to have insurance, it can be tricky if you find yourself in a personal injury situation.

If a boat operator acted with negligence and caused an accident, you may not be able to recover compensation. If an operator does not have insurance, they may need to cover damages out of pocket. However, they may not have the money, assets, or property to cover the costs. If this is the case, you may be out of luck to recover damages.

Auto insurance does not apply to boating injuries. While homeowner’s insurance might offer some coverage, not all policies will cover boat related incidents. The type of insurance claim that you will need to file depends on the accident, the people involved, and insurance policies held by those people. If filing an insurance claim is not an option, you may need to file a personal injury lawsuit.

Injury Settlement Calculator:

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Summary of Boating Accident Laws

After a boating accident that resulted in injuries, you may have a lot of questions and concerns. Establishing fault in a boating accident is a complex matter that is best determined by a competent personal injury attorney. There are a variety of state and federal laws in play that complicate the matter of assigning fault in these events. If you sustained injuries in a boating accident, Lawsuit Info Center can help. We can help you find the right personal injury lawyer in your area. It is customary for an attorney to offer an initial case review at no cost to you. We strongly suggest the help of a lawyer in determining if there is a possibility of recovering damages in your boat accident case.