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Recreational Boat Accidents

It's All Fun and Games Until Someone Gets Hurt

Recreational boat accidents can happen on several types of watercraft used for pleasure or non-commercial purposes. There are three main types:

  • Unpowered or human-powered vessels: Racing sculls, dinghies, rowboats, kayaks, canoes, rafts, paddleboards, etc.
  • Sailing vessels (without auxiliary engines): Sloops, schooners, windsurfers, etc.
  • Motor-powered vessels: speedboats, runabouts, cabin cruisers, and outboards, steam yachts, sailing yachts or sailboats with auxiliary engines, JetSkis, etc.

Law and Responsibility

In the eyes of law, navigation for recreation is of equal importance as navigation for commercial purposes. Sailboats and large steamers have the same rights on navigable or public waters, as long as they are operating lawfully and not interfering with other citizens’ use.

However, operating a smaller pleasure craft does not absolve the operator of the responsibility to avoid collision with a larger vessel. Those who operate any watercraft in waters frequented by other boats have an obligation to pay attention and take the care that any reasonable, prudent person would exercise to notice dangers and avoid injury to others. The operator of the boat is required to know the state and federal regulations to ensure they are using their watercraft legally, such as who has the right-of-way, having an observer on board when pulling a skier, ensuring everyone is equipped with a life jacket and all other safety practices to prevent accident or injury.

Pleasure craft operators also have the legal responsibility to cover damages for any injury resulting from the violation of this duty, whether intentional or through negligence.

It should be noted that the relative size and maneuverability of boats may be taken into consideration in determining fault in a collision. For example, large, powerful vessels must not travel in navigable waters at a speed that will displace other properly-handled vessels. Fast vessels like JetSkis must slow down to a safe speed when other vessels are present.

While many boat owners carry liability insurance like automobile drivers, it is not required by law, unless a financing company is involved. If you do own a boat, it is highly recommended to carry insurance on your vessel. The liability in a boating accident can be far greater than the average car accident carries because many types of watercraft can hold more passengers than typical automobiles.

Causes and Types of Recreational Boating Accidents

According to the 2016 Recreational Boating Statistics compiled by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG), the top contributing factors to recreational boating accidents are:

  • Operator inattention or improper lookout
  • Operator inexperience or navigation rules violation (such as failure to keep required distance from buoys or other vessels)
  • Excessive Speed
  • Machinery failure
  • Alcohol use
  • Weather
  • Hazardous waters

In fatal boating accidents, the leading cause was alcohol use. Boating Under the Influence (BUI) is a major cause of many recreational boating injuries and fatalities. In fact, all states, and the federal government have laws specifically targeting boating under the influence that allows law enforcement officials to stop watercraft to ensure operators are safe to be on the water. If you are found to be BUI, you may be faced with jail time, a criminal record, and expensive fines.

The same survey showed that 80% of fatal boating accident victims drowned, and of these drowning victims, 83% were not wearing a life jacket.

The most frequent types of recreational boating accidents are:

  • Collision with another recreational vessel or a fixed object
  • Flooding/swamping
  • Grounding
  • Capsizing

Common Injuries from Recreational Boating Accidents

Injuries and fatalities that result from recreational boating and watersport accidents include:

  • Concussion, broken bones or contusions from being struck by a boom on a sailboat
  • Cuts and lacerations on fishing boats, either from fishing line or knives used to fillet fish
  • Lacerations or amputations from the propeller and/or run-over accidents
  • Drowning from overboard accidents
  • Carbon monoxide poisoning from improperly vented enclosures, or being too close to boat’s exhaust
  • Broken bones or sprains, nerve damage, or traumatic brain injury from a slip/trip and fall
  • Sprains, cuts or traumatic brain injuries to water skiers, wakeboarders, inner-tubers, etc.

If you or a loved one has been seriously injured or killed in an accident involving a recreational boat or watercraft, contact an experienced personal injury lawyer at TorkLaw immediately so he or she can start working right away to obtain all the monetary compensation you are entitled to.