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What Is the First Action Required of a Boat Operator After an Accident?

Illinois law states that the failure of the boat operator to act using reasonable care is deemed as negligence in any type of vehicle accident, including boats. In addition, boat operators have certain obligations if they find themselves in a boating accident.

A boat operator’s actions immediately after the accident can affect their liability for the accident and have severe repercussions for everyone involved. With that in mind, every boat operator must know their obligations if involved in a boating accident.

Can I Sue The Operator of a Boat If He Or She Caused An Injury to Me?

If you or a loved one have been a victim of a boating accident caused by the negligence of another boater, schedule a free consultation with the personal injury attorneys at Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers, LLC, to determine if you have a case against the other party.

Call boat accident lawyers toll-free at (888) 424-5757 or fill out this online contact form for a free consultation today. All sensitive information you share with our attorney remains confidential through an attorney-client relationship.

What Is the First Action Required of a Boat Operator Who Is Involved in a Boating Accident?

1. Ensure the Safety of Everyone Aboard

If you are involved in a boat accident, and the boat remains safely afloat, the first action is to determine if anyone needs medical attention, including yourself.

Administer first aid and call for medical assistance. If anyone fell overboard, get them back aboard as quickly as possible. Ensure everyone is wearing a life jacket or personal floatation device (PFD); the first priority should be children, the elderly, and anyone injured.

2. Move the Boat Accordingly -- or Stay Where You Are

After the first action is met, any boat operator who is involved in a boating accident must stop the vessel immediately unless doing so would endanger anyone on board. For example, it is safer to sail back to shore if the boat is sinking. Or, if the boat is at risk of getting hit by other vessels, a boat operator must move it out of the way. Otherwise, stay where you are until help arrives.

However, if the boat is no longer operational and if you are in immediate danger, call the US Coast Guard as soon as possible. Seek assistance from other boats if there are any nearby, especially if your vessel is starting to sink.

3. Report the Boating Accident

An operator involved in a boating accident is almost always required to report to law enforcement. The requirements to file an accident report to the police may vary between jurisdictions, but it’s always best to report the boating accident as soon as possible.

It is required of a boat operator to file an accident report to the police and Coast Guard if there was:

  • A fatality
  • A missing person is assumed dead or injured
  • An injury requiring medical care more than first aid
  • Property damage of more than $2,000
  • A destroyed vessel

A boat operator must report the incident to the Coast Guard within 48 hours if a person dies within 24 hours, is injured, requires medical attention beyond basic first aid, or goes missing under circumstances that indicate injury or death.

4. Document the Boating Accident

Not all boating accidents lead to civil cases. However, an insurance claim will probably occur. Either way, it is best to document the scene of the boat accident and all boats involved.

Here’s how to properly gather information:

  • Take pictures and videos of the accident scene, including the damages made to your boat and the other party’s boat
  • Collect information from everyone involved in the accident (names, addresses, contact numbers)
  • Ask for a copy of the police report
  • Write down the vessel identification number and insurance company information of the other party; the vessel identification number is usually on the boat’s hull
  • Advise everyone to go to the doctor for possible injuries, even if they feel and look fine
  • Note the time that the accident occurred

Documentation will be helpful later when presenting your personal injury case.

What Happens If a Boat Operator Fails to Meet Their Legal Duty After an Accident?

Leaving the scene or failing to notify law enforcement can have serious legal consequences. If you are involved in a boating accident, follow the abovementioned steps.

Seek legal counsel immediately, even if you have met your legal obligations after an accident. Having good legal representation will help hold those responsible for the accident accountable.

Filing a Boat Accident Lawsuit

If you are injured or your boat sustains damage caused by the other party’s negligence, you have the legal right to seek compensation for your losses. But first, you must meet certain legal conditions:

  • The boat operator who caused the crash must have acted negligently. Negligence of the other party must be proven. You must prove that the other party breached their duty of care while operating their boat. If you were partially at fault, you might only be able to recover a percentage of the damages.
  • The person bringing the case suffers an actual injury, which causes damages. These can be economic damages that include medical bills and property damage and non-economic damages, including pain and suffering from your injuries. Your personal injury lawyer can help you gather the documentation you need to prove the extent of the damages.
  • The defendant who acted negligently caused your damages. You must prove that the negligent party was the one who caused damages. You can only receive compensation for damages directly caused by the defendant’s negligence.

Contact a law firm as soon as possible to determine if you have a case against the negligent party and if you have any liability in the boating accident.

An experienced boating accident attorney can also help you collect information that may prove instrumental to your case. They can help you take advantage of the full scope of claimable damages available to you.

Common Damages in Boating Accident Claims

With the proper legal counsel, you may be able to sue for all claimable damages, such as:

  • Medical expenses: You could pursue damages to cover bills for hospitalization, surgery, emergency transportation, life support, and other types of medical care that you needed after the accident. Medical costs may also include future expenses, such as physical therapy or long-term care.
  • Property damage: You may also be able to sue the other party for damages to your boat and other property (i.e., valuables lost or damaged in the boat accident).
  • Lost income: If you missed work while recovering from your injuries, you might also sue for lost income, including tips, bonuses, and commissions. You may also be able to sue for lost wages and lost earning potential if you become permanently disabled from the boat accident.

Along with a boating accident compensation claim, you may also be able to sue for wrongful death if the watercraft accident resulted in a loved one’s passing.

Critical Evidence

Collecting as much evidence as possible can increase your chances of winning the case. Essential pieces of evidence include:

  • Proof of medical treatment: A medical report will prove that you have sustained injuries from the boating accident. You also need a medical report to show how much you spent on medical care, which you can recover in your compensation claim.
  • Documentation of the scene: This includes watercraft accident reports, photos and videos, the approximate location where the accident occurred, and information about both boats (vessel’s registration number, owner’s information, etc.)
  • Witness accounts of people involved: Having witnesses give their accounts can help turn the case in your favor. If there are other boats present, it may help to take down their vessel identification numbers.
  • Proof of pain and suffering:Your personal injury lawyer may use some documents to prove pain and suffering for your claim. Examples include psychiatric records, medical prognosis, medical expenses, and pictures of your injuries.

Most Common Causes of Boating Accidents

In 2020, The US Coast Guard USCG reported 5,265 boating accidents, 767 of which involved fatalities and 3,191 injuries. Property damage amounted to $62.5 million.

Compared to 2019, the number of boat accidents increased by 26.3%. Death and injury rates increased by 25.1% and 24.7%, respectively. Several boating organizations attribute the increasing rate of boat accidents to the rising interest in boating during COVID-19 times.

But why do these accidents happen? Here are the most common causes:

Operator Inexperience

Lack of experience may render a boat operator unable to drive the boat safely nor react to dangerous situations accordingly.

Operator Inattention

The simple yet reckless act of not paying attention can easily lead to a boating accident. Similar to distracted driving, actions like using the phone, looking far away, or drinking alcohol can make an operator lose control or fail to see hazards up ahead.

Reckless Behavior

Reckless actions like speeding, drinking excessively, and overloading the vessel can lead to a serious boating accident and result in injuries, sometimes even death. Everyone on the boat, including passengers, must practice caution when on the water to prevent accidents from occurring.

Mechanical Failure

Boats require regular maintenance to operate safely. Failure to keep up with maintenance can lead to mechanical failure, resulting in the boat breaking down, sinking, or catching fire.

Environmental Factors

A boating accident is out of an operator’s control in some cases. High winds, large waves, and storms can quickly turn things sour. Thus, boating operators must check weather conditions before sailing.

Boating Safety Tips

Aside from knowing the actions required of a boat operator after an accident, it’s imperative that you know how to avoid boat accidents in the first place. To prevent a boating accident, you should:

Receive Proper Training

Complete a boating training course and practice with an experienced boat operator before sailing on your own. A boating accident can easily be prevented with proper training and knowledge.

Invest in Safety Gear

Ensure that everyone on the vessel is wearing a life jacket. If you are taking children onboard, bring life jackets meant for children.

Moreover, pack emergency safety gear, including fire extinguishers, flares, flashlights, horns, etc. In case of an accident, being thoroughly prepared can mean the difference between life and death.

Practice Property Safety Measures

Safe operation of a water vessel is always required of a boat operator. Breaching this duty of care can land you in legal hot water or cause severe injuries or even death.

Always ensure that you are sailing at a proper speed, don’t drink excessively, be aware of your surroundings, and ensure everyone on your boat is accounted for at all times.

Know What to Do in Case of an Accident

No one wants to get into an accident, especially not at sea, but it pays to be prepared for anything. Inform all passengers of the proper safety measures in case of an accident, make sure you have the number for emergency services and means to contact them, and know the first action you need to do when things go wrong.

Hire an Experienced Attorney For Your Boat Accident Claim

A boating accident can result in grave injuries and severe property damages. With that being said, every operator involved in a boating accident must know the first action required of a boat operator.

This includes ensuring everyone’s safety and filing a boating accident report to the authorities.

If you are a victim of a boating accident, car accident, or motorcycle accident caused by the negligence of another, take the first action by scheduling a consultation with a personal injury lawyer. We can help you explore your legal options, gather strong evidence, and file a personal injury claim.

At Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers, LLC, our legal counsel is well-versed in boating accident claims. To start discussing your options for legal recourse, call (888) 424-5757 or answer this online form for a free consultation with a personal injury lawyer today.

Our practice areas also cover car accident lawsuits, motorcycle accident claims, medical malpractice, and more.


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