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Boating Accident Lawsuits

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Settlements, Compensation and Hiring a Personal Injury Lawyer

In 2007, 5,191 boating accidents claimed the lives of 685 people and injured another 3,673, according to a report by the U.S. Coast Guard. Many of these accidents occurred due to negligence on someone's part. When a boating accident is caused by another party's negligence, people who are harmed are often eligible for compensation for medical expenses, pain and suffering as well as other damages.

To learn more about the legal implications of boating accidents and your right to compensation, please review the information below and contact a qualified boating accident attorney.

Boating Accidents and the Law

As a legal matter, a boating accident occurs when a boat (motorboat, canoe/kayak, pontoon boat, sail boat, jet ski, etc.) is involved in an event or series of events that cause harm, such as property damage, total vessel loss, missing person(s), injury or death. Boating accidents are one type of motor vehicle accidents. According to the U.S. Coast Guard, common accidents include:

  • Collision with another vessel
  • Collision with a fixed, sometimes submerged, object
  • Collision with a floating object (e.g., log, swimmer)
  • Mishaps involving a skier or person on a towable object
  • Mishaps involving a person falling overboard
  • Capsizing
  • Grounding, sinking, flooding or swamping
  • Fire or explosion
  • Carbon monoxide poisoning

Most boating accidents involve an element of negligence.



Victims who have suffered injuries or property damage as a result of boating accidents often are eligible to receive compensation from an insurance company or a court award. First, however, they must establish that someone's negligence, or failure to act responsibly, was to blame.

Many victims of boating accidents prove negligence with eyewitness testimony, law enforcement reports and photographs of the accident scene. With this evidence, they must show that:

  • The boating accident was caused by carelessness
  • The victim was caused harm
  • The negligent party is responsible for compensation

Direct evidence provided by eyewitness testimony is persuasive evidence of negligence in a boating accident. For example, the statement of an onlooker, who witnessed a boat operator drinking beer, driving erratically and/or crashing into another boat, is convincing evidence of negligent boat operation. Indirect or circumstantial evidence may be just as compelling. For example, a law enforcement report stating that a swimmer's electrocution occurred near a boat that was wrongly connected to shore power is likely to persuade a jury of operator negligence.

To prove harm done, injuries must be directly linked to the boat accident. Among others, they may include:

  • Drowning
  • Hypothermia
  • Abrasions, contusions, lacerations
  • Trauma
  • Broken bones
  • Spinal cord injuries
  • Amputation
  • Burns
  • Electrocution
  • Carbon monoxide poisoning





To help prove negligence and win a civil suit, you should:

  • File a Boating Accident Report (BAR) with the law enforcement agency that has jurisdiction where the accident occurred. Federal regulations require the filing of a BAR within 48 hours when someone dies, disappears from a vessel or is seriously injured. A BAR must be filed within 10 days when a vessel's damages exceed $2,000 or the vessel is completely lost. Individual states often have stricter regulations.
  • Gather names and contact information of any eyewitnesses to the accident who are willing to testify on your behalf.
  • Photograph or sketch the scene of the accident (if possible), especially damages to the boat(s) involved.
  • Photograph injuries caused by the boating accident (if possible).
  • Keep notes on what you remember about the accident.

In some situations, more than one party is at fault. In these cases, liability is divided among the negligent parties in accordance with a legal doctrine called comparative negligence.


Compensation from a boating accident claim can help victims pay for medical expenses, lost income, physical and psychological pain, lost prospects and property repairs caused by the accident. The amount of compensation a victim is entitled is determined by insurance companies and juries, who typically use preset guidelines and take into account the severity of the injuries.




Factors Contributing to Boat Accidents

Many factors contribute to boating accidents. According to the U.S. Coast Guard, most fall into the following categories:

  • Operator error
  • Hull or Equipment Failure
  • Environment

Operator Error

Operator error is the most common cause of boating accidents. Common errors include:

  • Inattention
  • Lack of training in boat operation and safety
  • Inexperience
  • Violating "Nav Rules" or Rules of the Road (i.e., recklessness, speeding, etc.)
  • Improper loading of passengers and gear
  • Alcohol or drug use

A victim has a greater chance to earn compensation if a citation was issued at the scene of the boating accident. If the party at fault was operating a boat under the influence of alcohol or drugs, he or she not only acted negligently, but also committed a criminal violation and can be charged with a felony or misdemeanor DWI charge in a criminal court. In addition, the negligent party can be sued in a civil suit filed by the victim or the victim's family. The civil trial is independent of the criminal trial's outcome.

Hull, Equipment or Machinery Failure

Some boat accidents are caused by hull, equipment or machinery failure. The hull is the body of the boat. Boat equipment includes masts, rigging, seats, fire extinguishers, lights, communication systems and other equipment. Machinery includes the boat engine, electrical system, fuel system, ventilation system, steering system and so forth.

A failure of one of these systems or components might point to negligence on the part of the owner or operator of the boat for not maintaining the boat, the technician or boat repair facility for not performing quality maintenance, or the manufacturer for designing, manufacturing and/or installing substandard machinery or a flawed or defective piece of equipment.

When a flaw in design, manufacturing or installation can be proven, strict liability law may apply. In cases such as these, which sometimes result in class action lawsuits involving large settlements, negligence may not need to be proved (the fact that the component in question is defective and caused harm is sufficient to prove liability).

If you suspect a design, manufacturing, or installation defect contributed to your boat accident, be sure to retain possession of your boat so that it can be used as evidence in a trial, if necessary.


Sometimes conditions in the environment, including those listed below, contribute to boat accidents.

  • Congested waters
  • Hazardous waters
  • Presence of a dam or lock
  • Bad weather
  • Presence of big waves or wakes

Many times these situations are worsened by another party's negligence. Government negligence may be present when environment is a factor in an accident. For example, if a speed zone sign has gone missing in congested waters for an extended period of time, a governmental body may be liable. Because there are specific rules and time limits for filing a boating accident claim with a government entity, you should contact a personal injury attorney as soon as possible after the accident.

When You Need a Boating Accident Attorney (Personal Injury Attorney)

Although insurance companies sometimes manage boating accident claims, in many cases victims do not receive their just compensation. Personal injury attorneys can help victims file their claims and receive the compensation they deserve.

Victims who find themselves in one of the following situations may need to contact a personal injury attorney in order to determine and exercise their rights:

  • Expenses from the boating accident have not been reimbursed. Many victims suffer financial losses due to property damage, psychological pain, lost opportunities, lost income and medical expenses. In these cases, a personal injury attorney can help file a victim's claim to help him or her obtain full compensation for any losses.
  • The insurance company is taking an excessive amount of time to settle a claim. It is important to note that state statutes set limitations on personal injury claims that victims must be aware of.
  • A claim is rejected because an insurance company denies the fault of the negligent party.
  • The negligent party does not have insurance.

These situations differ from standard claims handled by insurance companies, and need to be evaluated by a personal injury attorney.