There are roughly 12 million recreational water vessels registered in the United States. This number doesn’t include non-recreational vessels used for occupations like longshoring, drilling, and commercial fishing.
Though some people think bodies of water are run like the Wild West, the truth is that oceans, rivers, and lakes in and around the United States are actually heavily regulated. This means that a boating accident could implicate any number of federal and state laws.
A boating accident occurs when a vessel is involved in an incident that causes harm to another person. This harm might take the form of physical injury or property damage.
According to a report from the US Coast Guard, the 5 most common types of boating accidents are:
Other common accident types include:
The factors that commonly contribute to boating accidents can be grouped into 5 categories: boating operations, loading of passengers or gear, boat or boat equipment failures, environment, and miscellaneous.
|Common causes of boating accidents (2018)|
|Primary contributing factors||Boating operations||Loading passengers or gear||Failure of boat or boat equipment||Environment||Miscellaneous|
|Types of activities (examples)||Alcohol use
Failure to vent
Inadequate onboard navigation lights
Navigation rules violation
People on gunwale, bow, or transom
Force of wave
Missing or inadequate navigation aid
|Carbon monoxide exposure
Ignition of fuel or vapor
Sudden medical condition
|Number of accidents||2,362||150||405||632||596|
|Number of deaths||280||56||21||118||158|
|Number of injuries||1,657||102||102||340||340|
|Source: United States Coast Guard|
Boating accidents tend to be more complicated than car accidents, truck accidents, and other types of transportation accidents. This is due to the fact that, depending on the nature and location of the boating accident, a number of federal and state laws may be implicated.
Let’s take a quick look at some of the federal and state laws that might apply to your boating accident.
Federal laws (called “maritime” or “admiralty” laws) generally govern boating accidents that occur:
Some examples of federal laws that may govern commercial boating accidents include:
In addition to federal boating laws, state laws govern most non-navigable-water accidents (for example, a boat accident that occurs on a lake). Specific laws vary from state to state, but most state laws address issues like:
As is the case with car accidents, you generally have to prove that some other party was negligent in a boating accident in order to recover damages for your injuries. This means you’ll have to prove that your injuries were caused by another party’s breach of their duty of reasonable care.
Common examples of individuals and parties that may be held liable for boating accidents include:
For example, if you collide with another boat on a lake, you’ll have to prove these three things:
Just like motor vehicle drivers, boat operators are required to exercise reasonable care to avoid hurting others out on the water. A boat operator might breach this duty by operating their boat under the influence or by driving at an excessive speed.
If negligence can be proven, most states will allow you to recover:
If a wrongful death occurs because of the boating accident, certain family members of the deceased will, in most cases, be able to recover funeral costs, lost companionship, and the deceased's lost wages.
If you were injured in a boating accident while on the job, one of the federal workers’ compensation statutes probably applies. Determining which statute applies and what steps need to be taken to ensure your claim is accepted can be difficult.
Though we all like to think that accidents only happen to other people, the fact is there were 4,145 boating accidents in 2018 — and 2018 was actually a down year. Accidents can happen to anyone (yes, even you) and knowing what to do in the event of an incident can mean the difference between an embarrassing mishap and a life-changing accident.
Here are some steps to take following a boating accident: