Jun 21, 2019


The United States Coast Guard defines a "boating accident" as one of the following three scenarios: (1) a boat passenger dies or becomes seriously injured; (2) a boat passenger disappears and death or injury is suspected; or (3) a vessel causes or sustains damage.

Boating accidents are therefore not limited to collisions, but may occur whenever a someone is killed, injured or disappears while boating.

Common Causes of Boating Accidents

A number of different factors commonly cause boating accidents:

  • Significantly, over one third of all boating accidents involve a driver who is under the influence of alcohol. All states have criminalized boating under the influence (BUI) and often impose heavy fines on or incarcerate those convicted of such an offense.
  • Severe weather, such as strong winds or heavy rains also cause boating accidents. Sailors may experience difficulty in properly navigating and avoiding collisions, or in keeping a boat upright and afloat under certain weather conditions. Furthermore, lightning strikes may electrocute passengers or damage the boat or on-board electrical equipment. Extreme exposure to sunlight may also cause boat passengers to suffer heat exhaustion and other heat-related illnesses.
  • Boat engines produce toxic carbon monoxide, which may cause death or serious injury if passengers are exposed to high concentrations of the gas.
  • Finally, accidents often occur when inexperienced boaters encounter dangerous or unfamiliar conditions. Boating accidents may be reduced by following the safety guidelines set forth by the United States Coast Guard.

Accident Liability

Generally, persons are at fault for a boating accident if they act negligently. Persons acts negligently if they fail to conduct themselves as a reasonable person under similar circumstances. A reasonable boater would typically adhere to all safety rules and precautions and be mindful of passengers and other boaters. A jury determines whether the boater met the "reasonable person" standard.

Persons who cause a boating accident may incur civil liability, criminal liability, or both. Victims of a boating accident may sue another boater for property damage, medical expenses, and other losses they have incurred as a result of the incident. Additionally, the state may bring criminal charges against a boater if the driver caused an accident while intoxicated or operated their vessel recklessly or with gross negligence.

Accident Reports

The boat operator must file an accident report when a boating accident occurs that causes significant personal injury or property damage. The exact circumstances under which a report must be filed varies between states. The accident report must be submitted to either the applicable state agency regulating boats, the United States Coast Guard, or both. If personal injuries or death result from the accident, the report must be filed within 48 hours of the accident. If the accident caused only property damage, the report must be filed within 10 days of the accident. Failure to report the accident is a crime.

Boating Safety Regulations

Federal and state agencies regulated boating safety. The United States Coast Guard is the federal agency designated as the National Recreational Boating Safety Coordinator. The Coast Guard is authorized to regulate the safety standards of boats and boating related equipment. The Coast Guard strives to prevent and minimize the effects of recreational boating accidents.