A 71-year-old man loses his life when the 12-foot rowboat in which he was a passenger capsizes. A 33-year-old fisherman dies when his 10-foot open motorboat capsizes. A 48-year-old woman loses her life when the 23-foot sailboat she was in capsizes. A 54-year-old man on a cruise ship falls overboard and is never seen or heard from again.

Fishing trips, diving expeditions, water skiing, a weeklong cruise on a luxury ship – boats are supposed to fun, recreational vehicles for you and your family to enjoy. However, thousands of people are injured or killed in boating accidents each year.

According to the U.S. Coast Guard, there were 4,904 recreational boating accidents reported in the United States in 2004, which resulted in 676 fatalities, 3,363 injuries and $35,038,306 in property damage. Overall, carelessness or reckless operation, operator inattention, operator inexperience and excessive speed are the leading contributing factors of all reported boating accidents.


Boating accidents include capsizing, falls overboard, collisions, sinking/flooding, explosions, disappearance and fire. The most reported type of accident was a collision with another vessel. However, capsizing and falls overboard are the most reported types of fatal accidents and account for over half of all boating fatalities.

When there is a boating accident, a report must be filed when:

  • A life is lost due to the accident.
  • Someone is injured and requires medical attention beyond first aid.
  • There is damage by or to the vessel and other property.
  • Any person on board a vessel disappears (under circumstances indicating possible death or injury).

Reports must be filed within:

  • 48 hours of the occurrence if a person dies within one day (24 hours of the accident).
  • 48 hours if a person is injured and medical treatment beyond first aid is required.
  • 10 days if there is only damage to the vessel and/or property.

Boat accidents are governed by a number of city, county and/or state laws. Most boat operators have a legal obligation to operate their watercraft in a safe manner. If they do not, there may be criminal charges, and the people who were injured may be entitled to sue for damages. Boat owners also need to be careful about allowing other people to drive their boats. No matter who is driving, if the boat is in an accident, the boat owner may be liable for the damages.

Failure to remain on the scene, provide aid and report the accident in a timely manner is a crime. You should also report the incident to your insurance company. This is a requirement if a state or federal report was made.


Accidents involving boats often result in very serious injuries. Although most are due to unintentional operator error, other factors may also play a part in causing boating accidents. Poorly designed boats and other boating equipment and negligent, dangerous drivers are responsible for causing some boating accidents.

Civil and criminal lawsuits have been filed against the manufacturer when some type of failure of either the boat’s machinery or its hull caused an accident. Boat accident lawsuits also can result when a boat operator causes an injury while operating a boat under the influence of alcohol or in some other negligent fashion.

If you have been injured in any kind of boat accident that was someone else’s fault, you have the right to be compensated for a wide range of things, including property damage, medical expenses, lost wages, permanent injury and pain and suffering. In the event that a death has resulted from your accident, you can file a wrongful death suit.

If you have been injured in a boating accident, the following are important steps to take to prepare for a lawsuit:

  • See a doctor as soon as possible. Do not underestimate the injury from an accident. Back and neck injuries can be debilitating in the long term.
  • Get as much information as you can about your accident. Get the names, numbers and addresses of all people involved, including witnesses. You will also need to keep track of insurance information and the reporting process. Make copies.
  • Do not talk to anyone about your accident other than law enforcement officials. Anything you say to insurance company representatives or investigators could make it harder for you to settle your claim.
  • Do not sign anything, especially a release form, without talking to an attorney first.

Contact a boating accident lawyer as soon as possible. You may have a limited amount of time in which you can file a boating accident lawsuit. A competent boating accident lawyer can make sure everything gets done right.


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