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The Missouri waters are heavily regulated
Missouri is home to 272,770 acres of lakes, 519 miles of the Mississippi River, and 533 miles of the Missouri River.
In light of all the places to put your boat in the water, it should come as no surprise that there are more than 300,000 registered boats in the Show-Me State.
Unfortunately, more boaters in the water mean more opportunities for boat accidents.
Missouri boat accident statistics
On average, there are 174 boat accidents in Missouri every year. The majority of accidents do not result in injury or death.
|Missouri boat accidents (2015-2020)|
|Source: Missouri State Highway Patrol|
Unsurprisingly, most boat accidents in Missouri occur during the warm summer months when Missouri’s rivers and lakes are teeming with boats of all sizes.
Common causes of boat accidents in Missouri
Each year, the United States Coast Guard (USCG) releases its Recreational Boating Statistics report, which looks at the top boat accident contributing factors in the U.S. In 2020, the top 5 contributing factors were:
- Operator inattention
- Operator inexperience
- Improper lookout
- Excessive speed
- Machinery failure
Missouri keeps its own record of “probable contributing circumstances” for boat accidents that occur in the state. Here’s a look at the top 10 in 2020:
|Missouri boat accident probable contributing circumstances (2020)|
|Probable contributing circumstance||Total crashes||Persons injured or killed|
|Inexperience of operator||53||26|
|Failure to keep a proper lookout||48||30|
|Operated too close to vessel||29||9|
|Failed to take evasive action||23||13|
|Source: Missouri State Highway Patrol|
On July 19, 2018, a duck boat (an amphibious vessel) operated by Ride the Ducks sank on Table Rock Lake near Branson, Missouri, when high winds from a nearby storm caused waves to overwhelm the boat. Of the 31 people on board, 17 died.
A report issued by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) concluded that there are several characteristics that make duck boats particularly dangerous. For example, duck boats’ low freeboard and open interior make them “vulnerable to rapid swamping and sinking” when they become suddenly flooded.
Although the boat’s captain, Keneth Scott McKee, was charged with 17 counts of misconduct following the accident, the charges were ultimately dropped.
A number of passengers and family members who lost loved ones in the Table Rock Lake accident filed personal injury and wrongful death lawsuits against Ride the Ducks. In all of the cases, confidential settlements were ultimately reached.
Missouri boating laws and regulations
Although you might feel completely free when cruising one of Missouri’s beautiful lakes in your powerboat, there are actually quite a few rules and regulations you must follow.
Boating laws and regulations fall into 1 of 2 categories:
- Laws that impact boaters before going out on the water.
- Laws that impact boaters while they’re on the water.
Let’s take a look at the highlights.
Laws that impact Missouri boaters before going out on the water
The vast majority of laws impacting boaters before they go out on the water can be found in Chapter 306 of the Missouri Revised Statutes. Here are some highlights:
- Registration and titling. Every vessel on the waters of Missouri must be registered and titled. You can find more information about how to accomplish this on the Missouri Department of Revenue website.
- Age restrictions. All persons must be at least 14 years of age to operate a motorboat or personal watercraft unless they’re supervised by a parent, guardian, or person 16 years of age or older.
- Life vests and flotation devices. All vessels 16 feet in length or longer must have at least one USCG-approved life jacket for each person on board. Vessels less than 16 feet in length must carry one wearable or throwable USCG-approved device for each person on board. Learn more about how to find the proper life jacket.
- Fire extinguishers. Most vessels are required to have a “Type B” USCG-approved fire extinguisher on board.
- Vessel capacity. Always check and comply with the capacity plate (on the vessel’s transom).
The Water Patrol Division of the Missouri Highway Patrol recommends that boaters follow this pre-departure checklist:
- Check the weather forecast for the area and time frame during which you will be boating.
- Make sure that the steering and throttle controls operate properly, and that all the lights are working properly.
- Check for any fuel leaks from the tank, fuel lines, and carburetor.
- Check the engine compartment for oil leaks.
- Check hose connections for leaks or cracks, and make sure hose clamps are tight.
- Drain all water from the engine compartment, and be sure the bilge plug is replaced and secure.
- Check to be sure you have a fully charged engine battery and fire extinguishers.
- If so equipped, make sure the engine cut-off switch and wrist lanyard are in good order.
- Make sure you have the required number of personal flotation devices (PFDs), and check that they are in good condition and the proper sizes.
- Leave a float plan with a reliable friend or relative.
Laws that impact Missouri boaters while they’re on the water
The vast majority of laws impacting boaters while they’re out on the water can be found in Chapter 306 of the Missouri Revised Statutes. Here are some highlights:
- Reckless operation. It’s illegal to operate a boat recklessly. Examples of reckless operation include boating in restricted areas, boating while under the influence of alcohol, and chasing or disturbing wildlife.
- Overloading. It’s illegal to load a vessel beyond the recommended capacity.
- Riding on the bow, deck, or gunwale. It’s illegal to allow passengers to ride anywhere on a boat where there may be a chance of falling overboard unless the boat is equipped with proper guards or railings.
- Speeding. It’s illegal to operate a boat at speeds that may cause danger, injury, damage, or unnecessary inconvenience. What’s more, it’s illegal to operate a boat in excess of 30 miles per hour at any time from 30 minutes after sunset until one hour before sunrise.
Penalties for operating a boat while under the influence of alcohol or drugs
The penalties for operating a boat while under the influence of alcohol or drugs in Missouri can include fines, loss of your license, points added to your license, and jail time.
On top of that, there are several “hidden” financial costs associated with a charge. These costs include:
- The cost of towing your boat.
- The cost of your bail.
- The cost of an attorney.
- The cost of court.
- The cost of attending a substance abuse traffic offender program (SATOP).
- The cost of your increased insurance premium.
- The cost of your license reinstatement.
Reporting a boat accident in Missouri
Missouri law requires you to take several steps following a boating accident. If you fail to take these steps, you could be charged with leaving the scene of an accident.
- Provide notice. You must notify the Missouri State Highway Patrol after an accident. Be ready to supply your name and address, the vessel registration number, and the information on your driver’s license.
- File a report. You must file an accident report with the Missouri State Highway Patrol if a person dies, an injury occurs, or there’s damage to a vessel that exceeds $500.
- Render aid. You must render reasonable aid and assistance to anyone involved in the boating accident so long as it’s safe to do so.
How to recover damages following a Missouri boat accident
To receive compensation for a boat accident, you need to prove that someone else was “at fault” for the accident. In most cases, this means proving that the person was negligent.
To establish negligence in Missouri, you must prove 3 elements:
- The defendant owed you a duty to exercise reasonable care,
- The defendant breached their duty to exercise reasonable care, and
- The defendant’s breach was the cause of your accident.
Some examples of the parties who might be liable in a Missouri boat accident include:
- The boat operator. A boat operator might be liable if they were operating the boat while intoxicated or were driving too fast in the conditions, for example.
- Passengers. A passenger might be liable if they acted in a way that caused the accident, such as starting a fight that interfered with the boat operator.
- Manufacturers. A manufacturer might be liable if the boat accident was the result of a defective product.
- Restaurant or bar. A restaurant or bar might be liable under Missouri’s dram shop laws if they serve alcohol to an obviously intoxicated individual and that individual later crashes their boat.
Missouri comparative negligence law
Oftentimes, the plaintiff is at least partially at fault for a boat accident.
Missouri follows the pure comparative fault rule, which means that a plaintiff’s damages will be reduced by their percentage of fault (no matter the percentage).
For example, if you successfully sue the defendant for $100,000 and the court finds that you were 90% at fault for your accident, you will only be able to recover $10,000.
Do I need a Missouri boat accident attorney?
Boat accidents are typically more complicated than accidents involving other types of transportation. It’s important to find an attorney who has experience litigating Missouri boat accident claims.
To help locate the right attorney for your case, consider the following resources:
Your First Meeting with an Attorney
A worksheet to prepare for your first meeting with a personal injury attorney – what to bring, what they'll ask
Download in PDF format
Personal Injury Attorney Interview Sheet
Worksheet with questions to ask a personal injury attorney to help determine if he or she will be a good fit for your case
Download in PDF format
You can use the free online directory right here on Enjuris to locate a Missouri boat accident attorney near you.
See our guide Choosing a personal injury attorney.