Injury Law

Recreational Boat Accidents and Liability


When the summer comes, the weather begins to heat up across the country. Seas, rivers, harbors, lakes and ponds begin to be crowded with swimmers, sailors, boaters and all are yearning to dive in and have some fun under the sun.

Aside from having fun, one must remember to be careful in the water. Recreational boat accidents occur more frequently than you would imagine. Statistics presented by the U.S. Coast Guard calculated 4,158 accidents that resulted in 2,613 injuries, 626 deaths, and roughly $42 million dollars worth of damage to property. These statistics were for 2015 alone.

Furthermore, most causes of recreational boat accidents include improper looking out, operator inattention, excessive speed, operation inexperience, and boating under the influence (BUI).

Read further to know significant information relating to recreational boat accidents and liability, which include laws that may be applied to your case and who to approach for legal assistance.

What Is a Recreational Boat?

Hearing the term “recreational boat” may be unclear for some people. Generally, a recreational boat may refer to one of the following boats or vessels:

  • Sailboats
  • Yachts
  • Pontoons
  • Personal watercrafts (wave runners & jet skis)
  • Kayaks, canoes and paddleboards
  • Cabin cruisers
  • Center console runabouts
  • Tenders
  • Speed boats
  • Airboats
  • Inflatable & semi rigid inflatable boats

What Qualifies As A Recreational Boat Accident?

A boating accident is classified as a legal matter when it meets any of the following five measures:

  1. A person dies
  2. A person vanishes under any circumstance that may be stipulated as a possible injury or death
  3. A person suffers injuries and requires medical intervention beyond immediate first aid
  4. The vessel or recreational boat is entirely lost
  5. There is around $2,000 aggregate damage to property, the vessel or other properties

Types of Recreational Boat Accidents

Most recreational boat accidents do not occur due to perilous sea conditions or the bad weather. Instead, the majority of boat accidents are outcomes of human error in times of calm waters, light winds, and good visibility. Further, there are a few recurrent recreational boat accidents that include:

  • Hitting another boat’s wake: A boat’s wake is the area of disturbed flow, often turbulent. It goes downstream from a recreational boat that moves through the water. Boats create this trail behind them when they are in motion. The size of a boat’s wake depends on the recreational boat’s size, speed, and may become massive. When another approaches closer to another boat’s wake or advances toward it at a wrong angle, then it can capsize the other vessel.
  • Collision with another recreational boat: Boating is one of the most popular recreational activities. During summer, waterways can become flooded with boaters, sailors and the like. Crowded waterways escalate the risks of two or more boats colliding with each other. Thus, it causes more injuries from bruises, cuts, to falling overboard.
  • Hitting a wave: Depending on the size of the wave, this occurrence can be the same concern as pummeling a huge wake. Some waves have the potential to immerse the boat or cause it to collide against the water and potentially sink. Further, it may also capsize the boat when it hits the wave at a bad angle.
  • Collision with an immobile object or land: There are distinct obstacles on water that sailors and boaters must also pay attention. These obstacles include docks, buoys, and sandbars. Colliding with any of these established objects may prompt the vessel a violent jolt, thus causing passengers to be tossed or thrown overboard.
  • Failure to have appropriate safety equipment and equipment onboard: Recreational boats are required to operate on the water as long as they have the proper safety equipment onboard. This is equipment that reduce the risk of boat accidents including fire extinguishers, proper lighting, flotation devices, and distress signals. Negligence of having such proper safety equipment may result in recreational boat accidents and casualties.

Who Is Responsible In A Recreational Boat Accident?

Victims or families of casualties of recreational boat accidents may sue the operator of the vessel for negligence in providing reasonable safety. Such culpable parties could be the owner of the vessel, rental company, manufacturer of the vessel, or others who acted in a reckless or negligent manner. For instance, throwing or tossing someone in the water without floating equipment knowing that person is incapable of swimming.

To win a claim involving recreational boat accidents, the plaintiff needs prove the negligent boat operator failed to manage the boat in a safe manner and that his/her failure resulted in injuries and accidents. These negligent acts include any action that breached the duty of care which a boat operator should have performed such as taking the boat out under critical weather conditions, going too fast to prevent the vessel from hitting another, turning the boat the wrong way and causing it to capsize, or failing to supply sufficient safety equipment.


If you have been or know someone who is a victim of a recreational boat accident, then it is essential to know the legal rights and matters involving this type of accident. Likewise, you may begin the process by consulting a personal injury lawyer in your area.

Being involved in a recreational boat accident can be stressful especially if you don’t know the laws your state has. Injuries sustained from boat accidents may cause you disabilities – and when you’ve become disabled, employment discrimination in the workplace is a possibility.

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Aaron Gordon is a writer for various blogs.

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