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Typically, the boat operator is the person who is most likely liable for any accident. The driver is responsible for obeying the laws on the water and ensuring that safety protocols are being followed.

First, you should make sure that all passengers are safe and out of danger. Once all passengers have been accounted for, you should dial 911 and contact emergency responders. After first responders have arrived, they will help you report the incident and take you through the next steps.

The amount of compensation that you can receive from a boating accident lawsuit depends on certain variables. You can gain compensation for several different types of damages like physical pain, emotional suffering, loss of quality of life, lost wages, and more. Usually, more significant injuries result in a higher amount of compensation.

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Most Common Causes of Boating Accidents

The majority of boating accidents aren’t caused by bad weather or hazardous water conditions. Instead, boating accidents typically occur in ideal conditions when the water is calm, visibility is clear, and winds are light. These are the five most common causes of boating accidents according to the United States Coast Guard Office of Auxiliary and Boating Safety:

  • Operator Inattention
  • Improper Lookout
  • Operator Inexperience
  • Machinery Failure
  • Excessive Speed

Boating Accident Statistics

The Coast Guard counted 4,145 boating accidents in 2018. This involved 633 deaths, 2,511 injuries, and close to $46 million worth of property damage.

In accidents where the cause of death was reported, 77 percent of boating accident fatality victims drowned. Of the drowning victims with reported life jacket usage, 84 percent did not have on a life jacket.

Only 18 percent of boating accident deaths occurred on vessels where the operator had a nationally approved boating safety education certificate. In contrast, 74 percent of boating accident deaths occurred where the operator did not have proper boating safety instruction.

Alcohol use is the known leading cause of boating accident fatalities. In cases where the primary cause was known, alcohol was listed as the main factor in 19 percent of fatalities.

The most common types of vessels in reported boating accidents were open motorboats (46 percent), personal watercraft (19 percent), and cabin motorboats (15 percent).

Boating Accident Lawyer FAQs

Boating accident lawyers receive many questions specific to boating accidents and boating accident injuries. These are some of the most frequently asked questions to boat accident lawyers:


How Many People Die from Boating Accidents a Year?

The Coast Guard reported 633 boating accident deaths in 2018. The fatality rate was 5.3 deaths per 100,000 reported vessels. The rate decreased by 3.6 percent from the previous year.


What type of boating accident causes the most fatalities?

The types of boating accidents with the highest number of deaths are falling overboard (159 deaths), capsizing (137), flooding/swamping (68), departed vessel (66), and collision with a fixed object (62).


What are the top known causes of boating accident deaths?

The top five known causes of boating accident deaths are drowning (449), trauma (97), cardiac arrest (16), hypothermia (13), and carbon monoxide poisoning (8).


What is Most Likely to Cause Someone to Fall Overboard?

Most people fall overboard because they stand up while the boat is in motion. Particularly on smaller boats, standing up while the boat is moving or in rough waters can cause passengers and operators to lose balance and go over the boat’s sides. This can also occur when the boat is not properly balanced out.


Common Boating Accident Injuries

The U.S. Coast Guard recorded 2,511 injuries resulting from boating accidents in 2018. The most common boating accident injuries were:

  • laceration (571)
  • broken bone (463)
  • scrape/bruise (333)
  • concussion (243)
  • hypothermia (191)

Boating Under the Influence

Consuming alcohol affects vision, judgment, coordination, and balance. This increases the likelihood of boating accidents and puts passengers and operators at risk. Alcohol is even more dangerous on the water than land, and alcohol is responsible for nearly a third of all recreational boating deaths. It is illegal to operate a boat under the influence of alcohol in every state, and the Coast Guard enforces a federal BUI law that applies to all vessels.


BUI Enforcement

The Coast Guard and individual state laws carry heavy penalties for boating under the influence. This includes large fines, loss of boat operation privileges, and jail time. BUI laws and enforcement vary from state to state, so familiarize yourself with your state’s individual limits and enforcement.

Per the Coast Guard website:

“In waters that are overseen solely by the states, the states have the authority to enforce their own BUI statutes. In-state waters that are also subject to U.S. jurisdiction, there is concurrent jurisdiction. That means if a boater is apprehended under Federal law in these waters, the Coast Guard will (unless precluded by state law) request that state law enforcement officers take the intoxicated boater into custody.

When the Coast Guard determines that an operator is impaired, the voyage may be terminated. The vessel will be brought to a mooring by the Coast Guard or a competent and un-intoxicated person on board the recreational vessel. Depending on the circumstances, the Coast Guard may arrest the operator, detain the operator until sober, or turn the operator over to state or local authorities.”


Does a BUI count as a DUI?

BUI law varies from state to state, and in some states, a BUI conviction can impact the offender’s automobile privileges.


California BUI Law

In California, a BUI conviction counts the same as a DUI conviction, with the possible suspension to revocation of the operator’s driver’s license.


Illinois BUI Law

Illinois does not categorize a BUI as a DUI.


Missouri BUI Law

Missouri does not categorize a BUI as a DUI.


Pennsylvania BUI Law

Pennsylvania does not categorize a BUI as a DUI.

For a full list of state BUI and DUI classifications and regulations, visit the USCG website.



Is Boating Under the Influence a Felony? Can You Drive a Boat if you Have a DUI?

A BUI charge can depend on a number of factors and be classified as a misdemeanor or a felony. BUI penalties vary state to state, and charges depend on the operator’s intoxication level, if a BUI lawsuit happens, the BUI lawyer defense, the operator’s past criminal experience, and many other factors. Familiarize yourself with your state’s boating under the influence laws.


What Should You Do if You Are Involved in a Boating Accident?

Even the most responsible boater can find themselves in a boating accident. While a boating accident can be traumatic, there are steps you can take that can help reduce damages, increase safety, and even save lives. These are the recommended steps:

  1. Make Sure All Passengers are Safe
  2. Your number one priority should be ensuring that everyone involved in the accident is safe. If you can, drop anchor so you can focus on your crews’ needs and so you don’t float into additional danger. Check to see if any passengers have fallen overboard, make sure everyone aboard has on a life vest, and record and attend to any injuries suffered to the best of your ability.
  3. Call for Help — Contact Medical Professionals and Authorities
  4. If you have reception, call 911 immediately. If your vessel has a VHF radio, make a distress call on channel 16. These will alert emergency service providers who will then mobilize and assist you. VHF radio calls will also be heard by other boats who could be nearby and offer assistance.

Regardless of how insignificant any damages or how minor any sustained injuries appear to be, it’s crucial to have both medical professionals and authorities involved following up with your accident. Boating injuries might not be immediately recognizable or could become more severe later on, and certified medical professionals will be better able to recognize these issues. A police report is also helpful and often necessary for ensuing insurance and legal claims.


Gather Necessary Information and Assess Boating Accident Damages

Gather all necessary information for insurance, legal, and medical purposes. If the accident involved another vessel, take down the boat operator’s contact and insurance information and the vessel’s make, model, and registration number. Be sure to note the time and place of the accident and, if possible, take photos of the boats involved, the location, and any damages. If eyewitnesses were available, make sure you have their contact information.

TorHoerman Law offers an extensive guide for gathering and collecting evidence for a case. These steps are crucial in forming a strong liability case and will improve your chances of receiving a strong settlement. Review our guide to assessing damages to gain a stronger understanding of damages in legal cases.


Report Your Boating Accident

Reporting a boating accident is recommended to ensure the best legal, financial, and medical outcomes. Reporting your accident to the U.S. Coast Guard and your state reporting authority helps them maintain accurate data and build sufficient safety measures, and it can help you build a better case in court.  In many instances, reporting the accident is a requirement by federal law.


When is a Written Boarding Accident Required?

Federal law requires that an operator or owner of a recreational vessel involved in a boating accident file a report with their state’s reporting authority if the accident involved any of these circumstances:

  • A person died
  • A person was injured and needed medical attention beyond first aid
  • A person disappeared from the vessel under a situation that indicated death or injury
  • Vessels or other property occurred damages of $2,000 or more. Some states and territories have a lower amount.
  • The vessel is destroyed


When does a Boating Accident Report Need to be Filed?

  • Within 48 hours of the accident —  if within 24 hours of the accident a person died, was seriously injured and needed medical treatment beyond first aid, or disappeared from the vessel under a situation that indicated death or injury
  • Within 10 days after an involved person’s death — if the accident did not require reporting within the earlier 48 hour period


Where Can I Find Forms to File A Boating Accident Report?

Forms for reporting a boating accident can be found on the U.S. Coast Guard’s Directive and Publication Division Website or by entering the following form numbers in a web search engine:

  • CG-3865 Recreational Boating Accident Report
  • CG-3865-SP Reporte Del Accidente En Barcos De Recreacion
  • The CG-3865 report is accepted by most states and territories. Individual states’ primary boating authority’s contact information can be found at


Reporting a Boating Accident to Insurance Provider

Once you are safely back on shore, report the accident to your insurance company with as many details as possible. Be sure to provide names, any photos you took, and a copy of reports filed by the police or medical professionals. Even in cases where damages seem minor, follow up for an inspection.


Hiring a Boating Accident Lawyer

Boating accident lawsuits can be time-consuming and complex. An experienced boating accident lawyer will help you navigate the legal system to ensure your case is as strong as possible. This will increase your chances of a successful boating accident lawsuit and maximize your potential settlement. Building a strong attorney-client relationship is important, so make sure your lawyer is easily accessible and will keep you updated on your case. Before hiring a lawyer for your boating accident lawsuit, it’s important to ask:

  • Do you have experience with boating accident lawsuits? If so, what was the outcome?
  • How do I pay for your legal services?
  • Will you keep in contact throughout the case?

Hiring a personal injury lawyer can be a difficult decision, so be sure that you ask any questions you have before choosing a boating accident lawyer to represent you.


Filing a Boating Accident Lawsuit

Do not hesitate to seek legal representation from a boating accident lawyer right away. Your state’s statute of limitation laws limits the amount of time that you have to file a lawsuit after a boating accident occurs.

You should also do everything in your power to mitigate injury and additional costs associated with your injuries – one of the first steps to mitigating injuries is to seek proper medical treatment right away, regardless of the perceived severity of your injuries.

If you or a loved one have been in a boating accident and wants to guarantee you receive the compensation you deserve for your pain and suffering, it’s important to seek out an attorney experienced in both personal injury law and boat accident law. At TorHoerman Law, we have a network of boating accident lawyers available to help you successfully file your boating accident lawsuit. Our law firm offers free, zero-obligation case consultations for all of our potential clients, and our legal services are based on contingency fees. This means none of our clients pay until we have helped them receive compensation. Contact the legal team at TorHoerman today to learn more and for a free consultation.


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