According to recent statistics from the U.S. Coast Guard, in 2015 there were almost 4,200 boating accidents, with more than half of those accidents resulting in injuries. If you or someone you love has recently been hurt on a boat, your ability to build a case will depend on liability being established. And this starts with determining who, if anyone, was negligent.

Understanding the Importance of Negligence

In a boating accident where injuries were sustained, you must be able to prove that someone was negligent. Simply being hurt doesn't mean that you have a case. Negligence is legally defined as the failure to act with a level of care that a normal, prudent person would act, or committing an act that a normal person would not commit. There are a number of variables that can affect negligence, and it all starts with the type of accident that occurred. Contact a personal injury lawyer if you need help understanding how negligence works.

Determining the Type of Accident

There are many ways someone can be injured in a boating accident. But they typically happen in one of the following ways:

  • Collision with another boat, rock, submerged object, or land
  • Accident from another boat's wake
  • Accident from a wave
  • Lack of safety gear

Boating injuries can also involve carbon monoxide inhalation from a faulty engine and injury from severe weather like lightning, tornadoes, etc., but these are less common.

Establishing Negligence in Your Accident

Boat Collisions. When two boats collide, both operators are usually partly at fault, but not always. The injured party may be anchored and following all the "rules of the road" as well as local boating ordinances. In situations in which both are partly at fault and only one of the operators or passengers were injured, the defendant must be mostly at fault in order for the plaintiff to have a case. For example, if a motorboat hits a sailboat, more than likely the motorboat will be at fault since sailboats generally have the right of way.

Wake Collisions. When someone is injured from a wake, they're usually thrown from the boat or they sustain injuries from a harsh jolt. Because wake can generally be expected on open waters, establishing negligence can get a little tricky. But keep in mind the boat's operator has a duty to travel safely and do their best to avoid dangers. Your attorney will ask questions to determine the following:

  1. How big was the wake?
  2. Were you in a no-wake zone?
  3. What was the boat traffic like?
  4. How fast was the operator traveling?
  5. What was the visibility at the time of the accident?
  6. Did the operator warn you that a wake was approaching?

In some cases, the person who created the wake can be found negligent if the accident occurred in a no-wake zone or in an area of high traffic and crowds.

Waves. Because waves are naturally occurring and aren't caused by other boats, your attorney will look at a number of variables to determine operator negligence. For instance, did the operator know they were entering a dangerous area? Were precautions taken? Were life jackets available for everyone on board, etc.?

Rock/Land Collisions. Again, these are naturally occurring things that don't usually involve other boats. If the operator was following nautical charts and was traveling at a safe speed and under normal weather conditions when the accident occurred, more than likely they will not be found negligent. However, if they were intoxicated or otherwise operating the boat recklessly, they could be held liable.

Lack of Safety Gear. Most regulations require boats to have life jackets or rings, flares, whistles, fire extinguishers, and lights. While the absence of these items may not directly cause an accident, it can possibly result in injury or death and impede rescue efforts. Therefore, lack of any of these things can lead to negligence on the part of the boat owner or operator.