Many people living in California enjoy boating on the Pacific Ocean, the Colorado River, and many other lakes, rivers, and streams throughout the Golden State. While boating can be relaxing and enjoyable, it is also an inherently dangerous activity. When boating accidents happen, victims can sustain a wide range of potential injuries, including drowning.

A boating accident involves any incident in which a watercraft capsizes, experiences a fire onboard, or crashes into another vessel or an underwater obstruction. It is vital to understand how boating accidents happen and the motor vehicle accident laws that apply to these situations so that you can hopefully avoid accidents when you spend time on the water in California.

Who Is Liable in a Boating Accident?

When a boating accident occurs, it is vital to determine how the accident happened to ascertain which party or parties are liable for the incident. If you are a passenger on a boat and the boat operator was negligent in any way that caused the boating accident, liability would fall to your boat operator. If the operator of another watercraft caused your boating accident, then liability would fall to this party. It is also possible for liability to fall to another passenger if their actions caused the boating accident.

Determining liability for a boating accident is not always a straightforward process. In some cases, liability is unclear, or the seemingly liable party claims that forces beyond their control are responsible for the accident. It is also possible for a boating accident to implicate multiple liable parties.

Most Common Causes of Boating Accidents

If you want to enjoy boating in California with peace of mind, it’s important to know the ways that boating accidents most commonly occur. According to available boating accident data, some of the most common causes of boating accidents include:

  • Boat operator inattention. Boat operators must be cautious and vigilant when operating their vessels. Even a few seconds of distraction could cause a serious boating accident that results in severe injuries to the operator and their passengers.
  • Improper lookout. The lookout’s job is to stay alert for hazards that the boat operator might miss. If the lookout does not do their job, they may incur liability for a resulting boating accident.
  • Boat operator inexperience. Boating requires lots of practical experience. If a boat operator is too inexperienced to handle the current water conditions, they should not operate their boat.
  • Excessive speed. Speeding is just as much of a danger for boats as it is for motor vehicles on land. If a boat operator pilots their boat too fast, they may be unable to avoid an underwater hazard or collision with another vessel.
  • Boating under the influence of drugs or alcohol. It is illegal in California and every other state of the US to operate any vehicle while intoxicated. A boat operator who causes an accident due to operating their boat under the influence of drugs or alcohol will face civil liability for victims’ damages as well as criminal prosecution.
  • Mechanical failures. Boats are complex machines that require consistent maintenance. When a boat experiences a mechanical failure, a fire may break out onboard or the passengers may face other severe hazards. Additionally, if a boat was defective in any way, the manufacturer could absorb liability for the accident under applicable product liability laws.
  • Violating navigational rules. Every waterway that allows boating will have navigational signals and signs that provide clear instructions to boat operators. All boat operators must acknowledge these navigational rules and abide by them at all times to avoid accidents.
  • Bad weather. It is vital to avoid boating during inclement weather. Storm conditions can easily cause a serious boating accident.
  • Waves and wakes. Many waterways that allow boating in California have “no-wake zones” that prohibit boaters from operating their vessels at speeds that produce wakes. The wake is the wave created by a boat as it travels over the water. Both wakes and natural waves can easily cause boating accidents under the right conditions.

These are just a few of the most common ways boating accidents occur. Ultimately, every boat operator has a duty of care to operate their boat safely at all times, adhere to all posted navigational rules for the waterway, and ensure their boat contains all required safety equipment, including life preservers, life jackets, fire extinguishers, flares, and emergency communication devices.

Potential Injuries in a Boating Accident

When a boating accident occurs, victims face a wide range of risks. Some boating injuries may be minor, while others are life-threatening or fatal. A few of the most commonly cited boating accident injuries include:

  • Burns. If a fire breaks out onboard a boat, the passengers could suffer severe burning injuries if the boat operator does not have a suitable fire extinguisher or otherwise fails to contain the situation.
  • Injuries from blunt force trauma. If a boat collides with an underwater hazard or another vessel, passengers may be thrown against the surfaces of the boat’s interior and suffer head injuries, internal organ injuries, and other wounds from blunt force trauma.
  • Drowning injuries. When a boat accident sends passengers into the water, or if a boat operator hits a swimmer’s head sticking out of the water, the victim could drown. Unfortunately, if the victim does not receive immediate treatment and cannot be resuscitated, they may die.
  • Exposure-related injury. If you are stranded on a boat after a boating accident and unable to make it back to shore, you could sustain serious injuries from exposure if you are left on the water for too long. These injuries may include severe sunburn, heatstroke, and internal injury from dehydration.

Boating accidents can easily cause life-threatening situations for those involved. When boat operators fail to uphold their duty of care to operate their vessels safely, they can potentially incur liability for substantial damages.

What to Do After a Boating Accident

Whether you are a boat operator whose vessel experienced an unexpected mechanical failure, or if another boat operator crashed into your vessel, or if you are a boat passenger who experienced an accident on the water, your first steps immediately following the incident are crucial. First, you should check yourself for injuries before checking on the others involved in the incident. Contact help as soon as possible however you can, whether it is with a cell phone or an onboard radio.

If there is any risk of the boat sinking or capsizing, everyone onboard should put on a life jacket and prepare available flotation devices. Many larger boats have life rafts onboard that can self-inflate. The boat operator should have readily available emergency equipment onboard to use in the event of an accident.

Once you are safely back to shore, you should seek medical attention if you have been injured in any way. Even if you think you only sustained minor injuries, it is best to have a doctor examine you. Some injuries may not manifest immediately noticeable symptoms, and it is always best to identify accident injuries as quickly as possible to minimize the chance of them worsening into more dangerous medical conditions.

After you have given your statement about the accident to the authorities and received medical treatment, it is time to contact a boating accident attorney if you believe another party is responsible for the accident and your injuries. The right attorney can help you secure compensation for your losses and assist you in holding the responsible party accountable for their actions.

What to Expect in a Boating Accident Claim

Depending on where your boating accident occurred, you may need to hire an attorney experienced in handling maritime law cases. However, maritime law will not come into play in every boating case. It’s most likely that your boating accident claim will fall under the purview of personal injury statutes that apply to all vehicle accident claims.

Your boating accident attorney will carefully review the details of your claim, including the full range of your claimable damages and the circumstances of the accident to help you determine liability. Pursuing compensation for boating accident damages requires identifying the party or parties responsible for causing the incident and providing a full accounting of all the damages incurred due to their negligence. It will also be necessary to prove that claimed damages resulted from the boating accident and not some other cause.

Holding the defendant accountable for your damages requires proving that they owed a certain duty of care, such as operating the boat safely, failed to uphold this duty of care in some way, and directly caused your claimed damages. It’s possible to secure multiple types of compensation from a successful boating accident claim, including:

  • Medical expenses, including both immediate and future medical expenses resulting from your accident. For example, if you suffered injuries that required emergency care and caused long-term impairment, you could claim the cost of your hospital bills as well as anticipated long-term medical costs for treating your injury.
  • Lost income. When a boating accident injures you in a way that prevents you from working, you can claim income lost during your recovery as damages in your lawsuit. Additionally, if you develop a permanent disability from your injuries that prevents you from working in the future, you would also be able to claim lost earning potential.
  • Property damage. If the defendant’s negligence caused damage to your personal property, you can claim the value of your damaged property in your lawsuit.
  • Pain and suffering. Many boating accident injuries are painful, and experiencing a boating accident can be highly traumatic. California law allows a personal injury plaintiff to recover monetary compensation for physical pain and emotional suffering, and the amount received hinges on the severity of their experiences.

A boating accident victim may also receive additional compensation if the defendant in their claim engaged in intentionally dangerous or illegal behavior that contributed to the accident. For example, if the boat operator was drunk while operating the vessel, they will likely face criminal charges for violating California DUI laws. The judge in the civil case may award punitive damages to the plaintiff, or a judge handling criminal prosecution of the defendant may sentence them to restitution to the victim.

Important Tips for Boat Operators

If you are a boat operator providing your services to passengers on a personal or professional level, it is vital to know your obligations under California’s boating laws and to keep a few important tips in mind that can help you avoid boating accidents and minimize your liability for boating accident damages:

  • Ensure your vessel is in safe condition before every outing on the water. Perform a thorough inspection of your boat to make sure there are no leaks or mechanical issues that could potentially lead to an accident.
  • Verify that you have appropriate safety equipment onboard. You should have all the required safety equipment onboard before every boat trip. This includes a fire extinguisher in good working order, flotation devices, and US Coast Guard-approved lifejackets that fit each passenger.
  • Never operate your vessel while intoxicated. Boat operators should be completely sober at all times while operating their vessels. Intoxication impairs judgment and reaction time, and if you cause a boating accident under the influence, you can expect to face criminal prosecution in addition to civil liability for victims’ damages.
  • Heed all navigational signs and local ordinances. Make sure you know the boating laws for the waterway you plan to visit and pay close attention to nautical markers, buoys, and posted navigational signs at all times.

Hopefully, these tips will help you have a safer, more enjoyable time on the water while also limiting your potential liability for a boating accident.

Find Legal Representation for a Boating Accident Claim Today

If you are involved in a boating accident and believe another party is to blame for your injuries and other damages, it is vital to seek legal counsel from an experienced boating accident attorney as soon as possible. Your legal team can help you establish liability for your losses and help you account for all claimable damages to maximize your compensation. If you are ready to discuss legal options with a compassionate and experienced boating accident attorney, contact Easton & Easton today to schedule a consultation with our team.