Photo of a wrecked sailing boat

Hurt in a Boating Accident?

From a pontoon to a sailboat, securing a safe, and enjoyable recreational boating experience is always the goal, but nonetheless, not always in the operator’s or passenger’s control. While boating can be a lot of fun, the activity poses a real threat for potential accident: in 2015 alone, the U.S. Coast Guard counted 4,158 recreational boating accidents, with an involved 626 deaths, 2,613 injuries, and approximately $42 million dollars of property damage–these numbers raised across the board in 2016, with property damage in particular jumping to $49 million. While the most common boating accidents involve recreational ships, boating crashes may also involve cruise lines, workboats, or other shipping vessels: the greater the size of the vessel, as well as its carrying capacity, may thus result in a higher injury rate, despite the lessened chance of an accident originating.

Recreational, Work, and Cruise: What kinds of boats are in each class?

The three main types of boat groups, as indicated above, are recreational, work, and cruise: boats for private use, boats for company/government use, and boats for large groups of paying passengers.

While the term “recreational” may be applied to any vessel that is being used recreationally, it typically denotes the following boat types:

  • Yachts
  • Sailboats
  • Personal watercrafts (i.e., jet skis and wave runners)
  • Pontoons
  • Kayaks, paddleboards, and canoes
  • “Center Console Runabouts”
  • Cabin cruisers
  • Tenders
  • Inflatable & semi-Rigid inflatable boats
  • “Go-Fast” boats
  • Airboats

Work vessels are more definitively categorized; boats that can be legally considered as work vessels are typically finite. Work boats include:

  • Bulk Carriers, a merchant ship specially designed to transport unpackaged bulk cargo, such as grains, coal, ore, and cement.
  • Containers, cargo ships that carry all of their load in truck-size intermodal containers.
  • General Cargo, which carries cargo, goods, and materials from one port to another; with thousands of cargo carriers plying the world’s seas and oceans each year, these ships handle the bulk of international trade.
  • LNG Carrier, a tank ship designed for transporting liquefied natural gas (LNG).
  • LPG Carrier, a tank ship designed for transporting liquefied petroleum gas (LPG).
  • Oil Tanker, a merchant ship designed for the bulk transport of oil, the two basic types of oil tankers being crude tankers (for quantities of unrefined crude oil) and product tankers (for transporting “refined” products, such as gasoline, from refineries to points near consuming markets).
  • Shuttle Tankers, designed for oil transport from an offshore oil field.
  • Cable Layers, designed to lay underwater cables for telecommunications, electric power transmission, and more.
  • Fishing Vessels, equipped to catch fish in any given body of water.
  • Pilot Vessel, used to transport maritime pilots between land and the inbound or outbound ships that they will be piloting.
  • Tugs & Supply Vessels, which may tow or escort stranded ships and their passengers.

Cruise ships, or ocean liners, are large, luxury boats built to accommodate large groups of passengers; these boats, while safe to a requisite degree, also have characteristics that make them unsuitable for cruising, such as high fuel consumption, deep draught that prevent their entering shallow ports, and a high proportion of windowless suites. The most common types of of cruise ships are:

  • Mainstream Cruise Ships, which are the most popularly known type of cruise ship, are marketed by most companies as ‘floating resorts’. Their typical carrying capacity is between 850-3,000 passengers.
  • Mega Cruise Ships, the even-more-sensational, larger version, of mainstream cruise ships: these vessels can accommodate more than 5,000 persons.
  • Ocean Cruise Ships, which are built to more exacting standards than other conventional vessels. These ships generally have substantially more solid designs and more nature-resistant structures to withstand the especially harsh conditions of ocean voyages necessary for long and/or world-scoping cruises.
  • Luxury Cruise Ships, for clientele who want longer sea vacations, are motor or sail powered cruise ships equipped with the most sophisticated and technologically advanced nautical systems.
  • Small Cruise Ship, which range from motor or sail powered yacht-like vessels to medium-sized classic cruise ships with a capacity up to a few hundred passengers.

Who is responsible in a boating accident?

As with assigning blame in the case of any accident, fault will be attributed to the person, or persons, who had a significant part in the accident at hand; no one, including the boating operator, is automatically at fault. That being said, common scenarios that give rise to injury on boats are when a boat collides with another boat, a boat collides with a submerged obstacle, such as a rock, a boat collides with the wake of another boat, or a boat hits a wave–almost all cases where the most likely responsible party, aside of uncontrollable environmental factors, is the operator.

Operator inattention, operator inexperience, improper lookout, excessive speed, and machinery failure rank as the top five primary contributing factors in accidents. Additionally, alcohol use remains the leading known contributing factor in fatal boating accidents; where the primary cause was known, it was listed as the leading factor in 15% of deaths in 2016, the result of a BUI (Boating Under the Influence), where the vessel operator was intoxicated and their ability to safely conduct the boat was impaired. Liability, in that case, additionally depends on factors such as boat traffic, the type of boat, how fast the boat was moving, and visibility.

In a case where the accident was a fault of the operator, victims or their families may be able to sue said operator. Depending on the circumstances, they may also have a claim against the manufacturing company, the rental company, or other passengers who acted in a negligent or reckless manner, for negligence or for failure to provide or support reasonable safety.

When Do You Need an Attorney for a Boating Accident?

If you’ve been involved in a vessel collision, you’ve probably been informed of a class of maritime laws known as the Navigation Rules. The Navigation Rules contain written laws enacted by the U.S. government and other governments around the world, that explain a set of Inland boating rules, as well as an International set. These rules contain information on:

  • International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea
  • Inland Navigation Rules (and their respective technical annexes
  • COLREGS (International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea 1972) Demarcation Lines
  • Vessel Bridge-to-Bridge Radiotelephone Regulations

Once you meet with an attorney, one of the first inquiries you may have is which law will apply to your case: federal, or state?  Basically speaking, a case will fall within federal admiralty jurisdiction if it meets a “locality” test and a “nexus” test, including whether or not the injury occurred on “navigable waterways.” Otherwise, it will likely fall into state jurisdiction, and be subject to state laws on, among other possibilities, what kind of negligence laws that state maintains and the kinds of fines and punishments that can be imposed.

If the accident involved a non-recreational vessel, the circumstances change: for professional maritime workers such as longshoremen, port workers, repairmen, fishermen, and shipbuilders, you may be covered by an act known as The Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act, which gives employees injured while working on navigable waters an opportunity to recover lost wages and medical benefits. You may be able to secure temporary total disability benefits, temporary partial disability benefits, or even permanent total disability benefits.

Suffering After a Boat Accident? Find a Qualified Lawyer Near You

If you were injured in a boat crash or if a loved one was killed in the boat accident, you need a personal injury attorney that understands the emotional and physical toll that this wreck took and that can be aggressive in seeking the compensation that you deserve.

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