For some people, there is nothing better than being out on a boat on a warm, sunny day. Whether that involves a relaxing day fishing, celebrating an event on a party boat, or enjoying a high-speed trip across the water on a speed boat, people are drawn to the water, particularly during the warm summer months. However, things can go terribly wrong quickly if the boat operator and the passengers on board do not make safety a priority. Changing weather conditions, untrained boat operators, and equipment failure are just a few examples of safety hazards that can cause serious boating accidents. If someone is injured in a boating accident, a skilled personal injury lawyer will review the case and ensure that the injured person receives the financial compensation they deserve.
How Common are Boating Accidents?
According to an annual report from the United States Coast Guard, there were 4,168 boating accidents in 2019, which resulted in 613 fatalities and 2,559 injuries. The following are additional statistics about boat accidents in this country:
- Among the accidents for which the cause of death was known, close to 80 percent of fatal boat accident victims drowned, and 86 percent of those victims were not wearing a life jacket.
- Alcohol use was responsible for 23 percent of all fatal boating accidents in 2019.
- Seventy percent of fatalities occurred on boats where the operator did not receive proper boating safety instructions, whereas only 20 percent of deaths occurred on boats where the operator received adequate training and received a nationally approved boating safety education certificate.
- The top five contributing factors in boating accidents were operator inattention, improper lookout, operator inexperience, excessive speed, and alcohol use.
- The boats that were most involved in boating accidents were open motorboats, personal watercrafts, and cabin motorboats.
- The boats associated with the highest percentage of fatalities were open motorboats, kayaks, and personal watercrafts.
What are the Most Common Types of Boating Accidents?
There are many types of boating accidents that can range from minor to quite serious. The following are examples of common types of boating accidents:
- Commercial boating accidents: There are several scenarios that can cause an accident on a commercial vessel, such as a barge, a tugboat, a fishing vessel, or a tanker, including equipment failures, deck fires, and careless operations. The men and women working on the boat can suffer serious injuries in a commercial boating accident.
- Jet ski accidents: Careening across the water on a jet ski can be exhilarating, particularly when the sun is shining, and the water is calm and clear. Unfortunately, when the person operating the jet ski has little to no experience, or is under the influence of drugs or alcohol, things can go terribly wrong.
- Yacht accidents: Yachts owners or operators do not always have the necessary training to safely operate such a large boat. Yacht accidents can be caused by factors such as speeding, failing to obey the navigational rules, and failing to maintain the vessel properly. This can lead to serious injuries to passengers on the yacht, as well as passengers on other boats in the vicinity.
- Pontoon accidents: Pontoon boats are a type of recreational boat that relies on tubes, known as pontoons, to stay afloat. Although they are known for being fun and safe, they are just as prone to accidents as other boats, particularly if the person operating the vessel is not paying attention or is under the influence of alcohol. The propellers of a pontoon can cause severe injuries if the passengers on board lose balance and fall overboard.
- Rental boat accidents: When customers rent a boat for the day, they are generally given a quick tutorial of the boat controls and basic safety tips, then asked to sign a waiver. If the customer has little to no experience operating a boat, he or she may not be able to safely navigate the boat if weather conditions change. This can lead to serious accidents and injuries.
- Marina and dock accidents: If dock workers are being careless or negligent, serious accidents can happen at the marina or dock that can directly affect a boat. Anyone standing or working on the marina, dock, or boat can suffer serious injuries from this type of accident.
- Party boat accidents: It should come as no surprise that many party boat accidents are caused by boat operators who cause a collision or intoxicated passengers who fall overboard. Whatever the cause, it can result in serious injuries.
Common Causes of Boating Accidents
Understanding the common causes of boating accidents may help people avoid these dangerous situations. Most major boating accidents are preventable if people make safety a priority and take the responsibility of operating a boat seriously. The following are top reasons why boating accidents occur:
- Operator inattention: It is the boat operator’s responsibility to monitor the boat and take the appropriate precautions if the weather or other conditions change. The weather can change quickly, causing conditions to become very unsafe; therefore, boat operators should regularly check weather reports and watch for early signs of hazards.
- Inexperienced boat operators: The third most common cause of boating accidents was operator inexperience, according to the U.S. Coast Guard’s annual report. In addition to understanding how to operate and safely navigate the boat, boat operators must know how to handle emergency situations.
- Improper lookout: If the person assigned to look for possible threats or hazards is not paying attention or becomes distracted, a serious boating accident can occur.
- Impaired boat operators: If the boat operator is under the influence of drugs or alcohol, this can result in a serious boat accident. In New Jersey, the blood alcohol level for boaters is the same as it is for motorists, which is 0.08 percent.
- Excessive speeds: Just as driving too fast on roadways can cause serious car accidents, speeding on a boat can be extremely dangerous. Boat operators who move at excessive speeds will have less time to react to a potentially dangerous situation. In addition, high-speed boating accidents can cause serious injuries.
- Equipment failure: Boat owners have a responsibility to ensure that their boat is properly maintained and that any necessary repairs are made. Failure to do this can result in serious accidents.
- Violating the rules of the road: The rules on the water are similar to the rules of the road. Violating those rules can lead to dangerous collisions with other boats or running the boat aground.
- Inclement weather: As stated, weather conditions can change quickly, so it is crucial that boat operators check the latest weather report before going out on the water. Heavy rain, changing wind patterns, and severe thunderstorms can cause dangerous conditions on the water.
- Dangerous waters: Conditions in the water can become dangerous quickly. From strong currents and choppy waves to large, forceful wakes, these conditions can cause serious boating accidents, particularly if the operator is inexperienced.
- Running out of gas: Although running out of gas can be embarrassing, particularly if a marine towing company has to come to the rescue with a can full of gasoline, it can also be extremely dangerous if the boat operator miscalculates the amount of gas needed for a trip. Running out of gas when miles away from land can become dangerous very quickly, particularly if the weather changes.
- Breaking down: Before going out on a boat, it is important to check the battery and carry a flashlight and flares in case the boat breaks down. A boat that is broken down in the middle of a large body of water at night is basically invisible. Another boat can easily crash into a stranded boat, causing serious injuries and property damage.
What Types of Injuries Do Boating Accidents Cause?
Boating accidents can cause a wide range of injuries, ranging in severity from minor scrapes and burns to serious head injuries and fatalities. Although there is a common misconception that boating accidents are not as serious as car accidents because water is not a hard surface, that is simply not true. The following are examples of serious injuries that can occur from boating accidents:
- Bone or ligament injuries: These are common injuries that can occur when a passenger falls off a boat or slips and hits a hard surface on the boat. Although these injuries are not usually life threatening and the injured person usually recovers, they can cause chronic pain, even after the injury has healed. Depending on the severity of the injury, the victims may prevent the victims from returning to work or enjoying daily activities. In extreme cases, the victims may become disabled, resulting in significant financial hardships.
- Spinal cord injuries: These are serious injuries that can cause temporary or permanent paralysis. Depending on the nature of the injury, the victim may lose all sensory capabilities from the waist down, which is paraplegia; or the neck down, which is quadriplegia. In addition to physical injuries, victims of spinal cord injuries may be unable to return to work, drive a car, or complete daily activities. The costs associated with spinal cord injuries, including hospitalization, rehabilitation, and vocational training for a new job, can accumulate very quickly as well. These mounting expenses can be financially and emotionally devastating.
- Traumatic brain injury (TBI): Just because a boat accident happens on water does not mean that a boat operator, passenger, or bystander cannot suffer a serious head injury. For example, if two boats collide, a passenger can hit his or her head on the hard surface of the boat. If a passenger is thrown from the boat going at a high speed, the impact of hitting the water can cause a head injury. Even a relatively minor concussion can become much more serious if it is not properly treated. TBIs can cause permanent damage, impacting every aspect of the victim’s life. Oftentimes, they will require long-term care, which can be extremely costly.
- Death: If any of the above injuries are severe, the victim may not survive. Other fatalities can occur when a passenger falls into the water unexpectedly. If the passenger is not wearing a life jacket and has trouble staying above water, it can result in a tragic drowning fatality. That can occur if the passenger is not a strong swimmer or is under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Dangerous water conditions can also cause drowning accidents.
How can Boating Accidents Be Avoided?
Fortunately, most serious boating accidents can be prevented if people take the right steps to stay safe, either when operating or riding on a boat. The following are important safety tips to keep in mind that can prevent boating accidents:
- Stay sober: It is just as dangerous to operate a boat while intoxicated as it is to drive a car while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. In fact, being out on the water in the hot sun can exacerbate the effects of alcohol. It is best to avoid drinking when on a boat, or at least limit the number of drinks to one or two.
- Make sure that the appropriate safety equipment is on board: This should include lifejackets for the number of people who will be on board, first aid kit, boat lights, a fire extinguisher, a flare gun, and other emergency supplies.
- Maintain all equipment: Equipment failure is one of the top causes of boating accidents. All equipment should be checked regularly, including the battery, lights, engine, and brakes. Any necessary repairs should be made before taking the boat back out.
- Check the weather report. The weather should be checked before going out on a boat. Weather conditions can change quickly, making it dangerous to be out on the water. If the weather report calls for wind, rain, or other unsafe conditions, the trip should be canceled. If the boat is already out on the water, it should return to shore as soon as possible.
- Take a safety course: The U.S. Coast Guard found that approximately 90 percent of fatal boating accidents involved boat operators who were not trained properly. The National Association of State Boating Law Administrators offer an accredited boating safety course.
- Pay attention to the surroundings: The boat operator should keep their eyes on the water and pay attention to the conditions ahead. It is best to avoid distractions, particularly when the weather conditions change and there are other vessels in the vicinity.
- Maintain a safe speed. Even certain bodies of water have speed limits. They are there to promote safety and prevent serious boating accidents. It is the boater’s responsibility to know and obey the speed limit at all times.
- Follow the rules: In addition to speed limits, there are other safety and navigation rules that all boaters must learn and follow.
What Should I Do If Injured in a Boating Accident?
If someone is injured in a boating accident, they will need to file an accident report to collect compensation for any property damage or injuries that they suffered. The report must be submitted to the U.S. Coast Guard, the state agency regulating boats, or the local police authority within 48 hours of the accident if there were injuries. If the boat owner responsible for causing the accident has insurance, the injured person may receive financial compensation from the owner’s policy. Although boat insurance is not a requirement in New Jersey, it is highly recommended, as it may cover bodily injuries, property damage, guest passenger liability, medical expenses, and theft. A boat must be registered before it can be purchased.
New Jersey Personal Injury Lawyers at Ellis Law Seek Maximum Compensation for Victims of Boating Accidents
If you or a loved one was seriously injured in a boating accident, it is in your best interest to contact the highly skilled New Jersey personal injury lawyers at Ellis Law. We will thoroughly review all the details of your case and determine who is responsible for causing the accident. To schedule a free consultation, call us today at 732-308-0200 or contact us online. Located in Freehold, New Jersey, we serve clients throughout East Brunswick, Toms River, Middletown, Jersey City, Neptune, Hudson County, Union County, Essex County, and Ocean County, as well as Brooklyn and New York, New York.