Legal Rights and Responsibilities for New Jersey Boaters

New Jersey boating accidents

Whether you’re on a boat for work or play, it’s important to know how to stay safe and what to do if you’re injured in the Garden State.

Driving a boat can be as dangerous as driving a car. While many boating requirements are controlled by federal regulations, some are subject to New Jersey laws. Sometimes, it depends on where you are off the coastline and whether you’re boating for work or leisure. Here’s what you need to know if you’re heading out on a boat, whether you’re a boat operator, passenger, or your work involves boat operation or travel.
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Boaters are a hardy group of people.

If you’re a leisure or recreational boater, you probably head out on a nice day because you love the smell of the saltwater, the feel of the breeze on your face, the gentle rocking beneath your feet, and maybe the fun times spent with family or friends.

Or, maybe you work in a maritime industry like commercial fishing and you’re on the water all day, every day.

Either way, there are hazards on the water but there are also ways you can protect yourself. Other boaters’ behavior also affects you, just like you’re affected by other drivers on the road. But there’s a major difference between boating and driving:

Most car accidents or truck accidents happen because of driver error, equipment defects, and other issues related to either the cars or the drivers. If that occurs, a lawyer can pin down who’s negligent or liable — whether it’s a driver, equipment manufacturer, or someone else.

But on a boat, accidents can happen because of dangerous weather, unseen hazards in the water, and other natural factors that might not be directly linked to someone’s fault or negligence.

So, who do you sue in order to recover compensation for your injuries in that situation?

Continue reading to get to the bottom of this question, and learn other important things to know before you go boating in New Jersey.

New Jersey boating statistics

New Jersey has 130 miles of coastline.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that there are 180 people who are employed as first-line supervisors associated with farming, fishing, and forestry in New Jersey. There are 560 captains, mates, and pilots of water vessels.

New Jersey is also in the top 10 states for recreational boat activity, according to the National Marine Manufacturers Association. There are more than 150,000 registered boats and personal watercraft in New Jersey.

Real Life Examples: May 2020: Boater Matthew Conway died in a storm while sailing his rowboat in the Toms River.

May 2020: A 53-foot fishing vessel ran aground in Ocean County, New Jersey. The 2-person crew had to be rescued by helicopter because they couldn’t be reached by boat.

November 2019: Three people were seriously injured after a boating accident in Cape May when their 26-foot recreational boat crashed next to the Coast Guard station in the Cape May Inlet.

June 2015: 10-year-old Christoper D’Amico Jr. was killed when he fell overboard from a pontoon boat his father had rented and then was struck by the boat.

New Jersey boating laws

There are a few key laws that are crucial for all New Jersey boaters to know before they head out:

Boating license requirements

Any person who operates a power vessel must have a boating safety certificate.

  • A boater must be at least 13 years old. If the boater is older than 13 but under 16, they must complete an approved boating safety course to operate:

    • a vessel with an electric motor, or
    • a vessel that’s 12 feet long or longer and has an engine less than 10 horsepower.
  • A person over 16 may get a boating license after completing a boating safety course to operate any power vessel and may obtain a boating safety certificate.
  • If you were born before 1979, you may operate any vehicle except personal watercraft. You need to complete a boating safety course and receive a boating safety certificate in order to operate a personal watercraft if you’re in this age range.

If you’re operating a boat on non-tidal waters (inland, freshwater areas not subject to tidal influence such as lakes), you need a non-tidal boat license unless:

  • Your vessel has a motor of less than 1 horsepower or a 12-volt electric motor
  • Your vessel is 12 feet or longer with less than 10 horsepower
  • You are competing in a race authorized by the State Police, or
  • You have written proof of a boating safety course from out of state (that is similar to the New Jersey course).

Vessel registration & title

A sail-powered vessel that’s more than 12 feet long and any motorized vessel must be registered with the New Jersey Department of Motor Vehicles.

You may apply for a motorboat or a personal watercraft license that can be used on fresh, non-tidal waters or lakes, creeks or rivers without a tide. You must have a boat license in order to operate a power vessel or personal watercraft (jet ski or wave runner) on non-tidal waters.

New Jersey boating licensing and requirements checklist
How to obtain a New Jersey boat license
  • Complete boating safety course approved by the New Jersey State Police (you can do this at any Marine Services Bureau).
  • Obtain an initial motorboat or jet ski license. You must be at least 16 years old, and if you’re under age 17, you must have a letter of consent from a parent or guardian.
  • Provide these items to the MVC: New Jersey Boating Safety Course Certificate, 6 points of identification, and an $18 fee.
How to obtain an initial boat title and registration
  • Complete a Universal Title Application and a Boat Registration Application Form.
  • Provide Manufacturer’s Certificate of Ownership (MCO), title, or other proof of ownership from the seller and a notarized bill of sale.
  • Provide name and address of lienholder (if there is one).
How to register a homemade boat
  • Provide original receipts for all purchased parts.
  • A notarized statement that outlines construction details.
  • $60 fee for a standard boat, $85 for a financed boat.
  • Complete Form OS/SS-10A (available at MVC).
  • Complete Universal Title Application.
  • Complete Boat Registration Application Form BA-51.
How to register a documented vessel
Documenting provides evidence of nationality and allows for commerce between states, among other things. A documented vessel must weigh at least 5 tons, except for oil spill response vessels. It also must be owned by a U.S. citizen. Vessels are documented by the United States Coast Guard, which issues a Certificate of Documentation.

A documented vessel doesn’t receive a New Jersey title but it must be registered in New Jersey if it’s in N.J. waters for 180 days or more or if the owner leases, owns, maintains, or rents space in the state for storage, mooring, or servicing the vessel.

To register a documented vessel, you must bring the following to the MVC:

  • Completed Universal Title Application
  • Completed Boat Registration Application
  • Identification
  • Certificate of Documentation
  • Official Coast Guard Bill of Sale

Boating under the influence

Just like you’re not allowed to drive under the influence of drugs or alcohol, you’re not allowed to operate a boat while intoxicated or using drugs, either.

You may not operate any vessel if your blood-alcohol content (BAC) is 0.08% or higher.

You can also have enhanced penalties if:

  • Your BAC is 0.10% or higher
  • You’re under the influence of a narcotic, hallucinogen, or habit-producing drug
  • You’re under age 17
  • You have prior offenses

Navigation rules

All New Jersey boat operators must follow these rules and if you’re operating a vessel that’s more than 12 meters long, you must have a copy of these rules on board:

  1. Lookout. You must have a sight- and hearing-based lookout available to be on alert for appraising any hazards and risk of collision.
  2. Safe speed. Always maintain a safe speed in order to take proper and effective action to avoid a collision.
  3. Take action to avoid a collision. If you need to act to avoid a collision, use good judgment. Reduce your speed, stop, or reverse your propulsion if you need to.
  4. Narrow channels. Stay as close as possible to the starboard-side outer limit of a narrow channel or fairway.
  5. Head-on approach. If you and another vessel are approaching each other head-on, you should both move starboard and pass each other on the port side.
  6. Crossing. If you’re crossing paths with another vessel, the vessel that has the other on its starboard side should yield and allow the other vessel to cross ahead of it.
  7. Action by give-way vessel. If your vessel is directed to stay out of the way of another, do so.
  8. Action by stand-on vessel. If you’re operating a power-driven vessel that must cross in order to avoid colliding with another power, your vessel shouldn’t alter course to port for a vessel on its own port side.
Enjuris tip: For more details about safe boating, download the New Jersey State Police Boating Safety Manual.

10 most common causes of boating accidents

  1. Operator inattention
  2. Improper lookout
  3. Operator inexperience
  4. Excessive speed
  5. Alcohol use
  1. Machinery failure
  2. Violating navigation rules
  3. Hazardous waters
  4. Weather
  5. The force of wave or wake

Top 5 most common types of accidents

  1. Collision with another boat
  2. Flooding or swamping
  3. Collision with a fixed object
  1. Grounding
  2. Skier accidents

Liability for a New Jersey boating accident

Boating liability can be complex. But if you were a passenger on a boat and were injured in an accident, begin by asking these questions:

  • Did the boat operator use reasonable care in operating the boat?
  • Was the operator intoxicated?
  • Was the accident the result of human error? If so, was it the boat operator’s error or that of another person?
  • Was the boat seaworthy and did it have enough appropriate safety equipment (like life jackets) for everyone on board?
  • Were there any defects of the boat, itself?
  • Was the boat operator experienced and properly licensed?

If you or a passenger are injured because your boat hits another boat’s wake, is hit by a wave, or hits a submerged object like a rock or landmass, who’s at fault?

In general, you need to establish the other party’s negligence in order to recover damages for a boating injury.

But an injury, alone, doesn’t mean that someone was negligent. To be considered negligent, a person must have acted without reasonable care, and that action or failure to act was the cause of the injury.

If you’re injured in a car accident, your first step is probably to try to settle your claim with the negligent driver’s insurance company. In New Jersey, though, it’s not required to have insurance for a boat. Therefore, if you’ve been injured by the negligence of an uninsured boat operator, the only way to pursue your costs for medical treatment, property damage, or other losses is through the legal system.

Collision with another boat

If you’ve suffered an injury in a collision with another boat, you’d establish negligence the same way you might after a car accident. If one boat operator is at fault for the collision, they could be found negligent and responsible for paying damages to the injured person.

Accident or injury caused by the wake of another boat

A jolt from a wave or wake can injure a boat passenger. It’s easy to be knocked down, thrown from a seat, or tossed overboard. This can be caused by:

  • Speed of the boat
  • Size of the wake
  • Visibility of the wake
  • Type of boat (motorboat or sailboat)
  • Whether passengers were warned by the boat operator
  • Boat traffic in the immediate vicinity

If the boat operator failed to consider any of these factors, they could be held negligent. In addition, if the wake was created by another boat, that operator could be negligent if they were operating in a no-wake zone or violating boating safety regulations.

If an injury or accident happens because the boat hits a wave, it’s possible that no one is negligent.

Jurisdiction for a boat accident

If you’re considering a personal injury lawsuit after a boat accident, it’s important to determine which court has jurisdiction (in other words, where to file your lawsuit).

Most personal injury cases begin in state trial courts and only go to federal court if there’s an appeal.

However, Article III of the U.S. Constitution says that the federal court system has original jurisdiction over admiralty and maritime cases. This means your boating accident case would likely first originate in the federal court and doesn’t need to go through the state court. All damages or injuries, including property damage, caused by vessels on the high seas or navigable waters is usually resolved in federal court.

The “high seas” are beyond the jurisdiction of any country, and navigable waters are those in interstate or foreign commerce.

The only scenario where a state court might have jurisdiction in a boating accident is if it’s a personal lawsuit against the owner of a boat.

There are a lot of exceptions and nuances when it comes to boating injury jurisdiction.

If you were in a boating accident, it’s important to know what you’re entitled to recover and how. A New Jersey personal injury lawyer is your best source of information, guidance, and assistance if you need to bring a claim for your boat accident injury.


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