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Why, How & When To Hire a Boat Accident Lawyer

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Boating can be a great way to relax and enjoy the outdoors, especially in good weather. However, accidents can happen on the water due to many different reasons. If you or someone you love has been injured in a boating accident, it’s important to understand your rights, including why and when to hire a boat accident lawyer.  

Who Is a Boat Accident Attorney?

As the name suggests, a boating accident attorney is an attorney who represents individuals who have been injured in a boat accident. This attorney understands the complex legal processes involved after a boating accident, especially when determining liability.

For this reason, the boat accident attorney can:

  • Assess the injury and damages sustained by the boating accident victims
  • Identify the parties responsible for the accident
  • Calculate the value of that particular claim
  • File a claim with insurance companies
  • Negotiate a reasonable settlement on behalf of the injured
  • File a lawsuit on behalf of the injured if the other party refuses to settle the claim out of court 

What Causes Boat Accidents?

Even though each circumstance is different, most boat accidents occur due to operator error or negligence. This may include but is not limited to the following:

  • Excessive speed
  • Operating the vessel while under the influence of drugs or alcohol
  • Operator inexperience 
  • Failure to pay attention to weather conditions
  • A lack of safety gear and equipment 
  • Mechanical failure
  • Violations of navigational rules
  • Waves that are too high for the vessel to navigate. 

What Should I Do if Injured in a Boating Accident?

Seeking medical attention as soon as possible is the first thing you need to do if you have been injured in a boating accident. This step is crucial, even if your injuries seem minor initially. 

Keep in mind that some injuries take time to reveal their symptoms. In addition, during an accident, the body goes into shock for a while, making it difficult for the injured to feel pain at that particular moment. 

To do this, you’ll need to call 911. But what if you don’t have cell reception?

In that case, if you’re using a VHF radio, you can call Channel 16. This will alert the nearest emergency service providers, such as the local marine police, fire department, or Coast Guard, to respond to your distress call. 

Next, gather crucial information about the accident. Since each accident is unique, the kind of information you will gather will depend on the special circumstances of your case.

Generally, you’ll need the following:

  • Photos or videos of the accident scene
  • The contact information of the other party involved in the accident
  • Contact information of any witnesses

After taking care of your health and documenting the accident scene, you should contact a boat accidents lawyer to discuss your legal options.

A boat accident attorney can help you determine who is responsible for your injuries and what kind of compensation you may be entitled to. In many cases, boat accidents are caused by the negligence of another party. If this is the case, you may be able to file a personal injury lawsuit against those responsible.

What Should I Look for in a Boating Accident Lawyer Near Me?

When choosing a boat accident lawyer, it is important to look for someone with experience handling boat accident cases. The lawyer should also be familiar with the applicable maritime laws and regulations. 

Additionally, you should feel comfortable communicating with the boat accident lawyer and have confidence in their ability to represent you.

Reliability is yet another key factor to consider when looking for the right boat accident attorney to represent you. Does the attorney have time for you? Do they respond to your emails or calls within a reasonable timeframe? 

Although most attorneys charge a contingency fee for such cases, you also need to ensure that you understand their payment structure. The last thing you want is unexpected surprises later in the case. 

Lastly, and most importantly, you need an attorney or law firm with powerful legal resources to represent you. Boat accident claims are not usually the easiest to handle; they involve endless battles with insurance companies. For this reason, you need a boat accident lawyer who can build a solid case for you and take on the liable party in and out of court. 

Do I Have a Valid Boating Accident Claim?

This depends on the specifics of the boating accident. That said, here are a few things you should know about determining the validity of such a claim.                     

To have a valid claim, you must prove that the other party was at fault for the accident. You’ll also need to prove that their negligence caused your injuries. 

This can be difficult to do on your own, so it’s important to consult with an experienced boat accident lawyer. The attorney will evaluate your case to determine whether you have legal grounds to pursue compensation for your injuries and damages.

During the case evaluation process, the attorney will check whether your case meets the basic elements of a boating accident claim. In other words, the attorney will determine whether:

  • The other party owed you a duty of care
  • The other party breached their duty of care
  • You were injured due to the other party’s breach of duty of care
  • You suffered damages due to the injuries sustained 

If the above elements are true, you may have a valid boat accident claim. 

Who Is Liable for a Boating Accident?

Depending on the circumstances of the claim, liability may fall on the boat owner, the operator of the vessel, or both. It’s also worth noting that the injured may also share a certain degree of liability if their actions contributed to the accident in any way. 

Suppose the accident was caused by defective equipment or negligence on the part of the boat owner or operator. In that case, they may be held liable for any resulting injuries or property damage. 

In the case of defective equipment, such as engines, generators, or conveyor belts, the manufacturer may be liable. 

As discussed earlier, to prove liability in a boating accident case, you must show that the party responsible breached their duty of care to the injured. 

For example, suppose the boat owner knew or should have known that there was a problem with the engine and failed to fix it before taking the boat out on the water but ignored these facts. In that case, they would be considered negligent and liable for the injuries and damages the other party sustained. 

Similarly, the vessel operator would also be liable if they acted recklessly and caused an accident as a result. 

The bottom line is that the issue of liability in boat accidents can swing in different directions. Hiring an experienced boat accident lawyer is the best way to find out who is responsible for the accident and what damages you may recover. 

When Do Boat Accidents Mostly Happen?

These accidents can happen anywhere, provided there’s negligence involved. That said, the incidents are more common in summer and holidays.

The sad reality is that, during the summer months, most of these accidents do not occur due to bad weather. Alcohol and drug consumption, recklessness, and operator inexperience are among the most common causes of boat accidents around that time. 

How Common Are Boat Accidents in the US?

Boating accidents are not uncommon in the US. These accidents happen every year, claiming many lives.

To put things into perspective, let’s discuss some shocking facts about these accidents in the country:

  • In 2021 alone, 658 people died due to boating accidents and 2,641 suffered serious injuries
  • Also in 2021, total damages due to boating accidents in the country amounted to around $68 million 
  • Inattention by the boat operator was the most common cause of boating accidents in 2021, accounting for 677 cases that year 
  • At least 75% of boat accidents fatalities were caused by drowning
  • At least 83% of the victims who drowned that year were not wearing life jackets 
  • In 2020, alcohol was the leading cause of boat accident deaths
  • Open motorboats caused the most accidents in 2020, accounting for 46% of the total accidents.
  • These motorboats also had the highest percentage of boating accident deaths, accounting for at least 50%

Can I Bring Alcohol on a Boat?

It is not uncommon for people to want to enjoy alcoholic beverages while on a boat. After all, what could be better than sipping on a cold beer or a glass of wine while cruising around on the open water? 

However, it is important to remember that alcohol and boating do not mix. Here are a few things to keep in mind if you are considering drinking alcohol on a boat:

1. Alcohol impairs your judgment and slows your reflexes. This is dangerous when you are operating a boat or any other vessel, as you need to be able to make split-second decisions and have quick reflexes in case of an emergency.

2. Drinking alcohol in the sun can cause dehydration and heat exhaustion. This is especially dangerous as boats are often out in the middle of nowhere with no easy way to get medical help if something goes wrong.

3. In all states across the US, it is against the law to operate a boat while intoxicated.  

4. Alcohol can make it difficult to swim during an emergency. In fact, it can even increase the risk of drowning. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC)nearly 1 in 4 emergency room visits among adolescents in water recreation are due to drowning. 

In addition, around 1 in 5 of these visits result in death. 

5. Drinking alcohol on a boat can ruin the fun for everyone else onboard. If you are loud and obnoxious or start a fight, you will ruin the trip for everyone involved.

That said, most states allow responsible drinking on boats just as long as it does not include the boat operator. Keep in mind that drinking alcohol while driving a boat may lead to jail sentences and other harsh penalties depending on the state where the incident occurred. 

How Can I Avoid a Boating Accident?

It’s possible to avoid a boating accident by acting responsibly and keeping a checklist of important things to know or check before starting the trip. 

Here are a few tips to keep in mind:

Ensure you have the proper safety gear on board your vessel. This includes life jackets for everyone on board, flares, and a first-aid kit. 

Be aware of your surroundings at all times. Specifically, be on the lookout for other boats, obstacles in the water, and changes in weather conditions. 

Use common sense when operating your boat. Don’t drink alcohol while operating a vessel.

Always obey the speed limit.  

If you’re a passenger and you notice that the boat operator or anyone on board violates these and other maritime rules, notify the authorities immediately. 

Can I Still File a Boat Accident Claim if I Was Partly at Fault for the Accident?

You might be able to file a boat accident claim even if you were partly at fault for the accident. It depends on the laws of the state where the accident happened and how much responsibility you had for causing it.

For example, in some states, you can’t recover damages if you are more than 50% at fault. Such states follow the modified comparative negligence legal principle when determining fault. 

Other states follow a different rule known as pure comparative negligence. Under this rule, you can still recover damages even if you were partly at fault, but your damages will be reduced by your percentage of fault. 

So, for example, suppose you’re found to be 20% at fault for the boating accident. In that case, you can only recover 80% of your damages. 

Other states will not allow you to recover damages if you played a role in the boating accident. To put things into perspective, in a contributory negligence state, you may not recover damages if you were partly at fault for an accident, even just by 1 percent. 

And since insurance companies are always aware of such loopholes, they’ll try to devise ways to blame you for the accident. 

If you’re not sure whether you can file a claim or how much compensation you might be entitled to, it’s best to speak with a boating accident lawyer.

An experienced attorney will be familiar with the relevant laws and can help you understand your options. 

What if Someone Died in the Boat Accident?

If someone died in a boat accident, their family may be able to file a wrongful death lawsuit against the responsible parties. A successful wrongful death lawsuit can result in punitive damages, which are designed to punish the negligent party and deter future accidents, as well as compensatory damages, which reimburse the victim’s family for funeral expenses, lost wages, and other losses.

What Are Some Boat Accident Laws I Should Know?

There are many different boat accident laws you should be aware of if you are involved in a boating accident or planning to operate such a vessel. These laws can vary depending on the state you are in.  

However, some general laws apply to all states.

The first law is the Federal Boat Safety Act of 1971. This act requires all boats to be equipped with certain safety devices, such as:

  • Life jackets and wearable personal floatation devices, also known as PFDs
  • Fire extinguishers
  • Sound signaling gadgets
  • Visual signaling gadgets 
  • Throwable flotation devices 

This federal law also establishes minimum safety standards for boat construction and operation.

The Marine Casualty and Pollution Prevention Act of 1980 requires reporting all boating accidents to the Coast Guard. This law also establishes penalties for the negligent operation of a vessel.

Most states also require boat operators to have some form of training and certification before operating these vessels. For example, in Washington State, anyone operating a boat must have a Boater Education Card.

To obtain this card, the individual must take a boating safety course and pass a test. 

What Is the Statute of Limitations on Boat Accident Lawsuits?

The statute of limitations for boat accidents varies from state to state. In some states, the deadline may be a year from the date of the accident. In others, it may be two or three years. 

And in a few states, there is no specific deadline for boat accident lawsuits; instead, the general personal injury statute of limitations applies.

Remember that once the statute of limitations has expired, an injured party loses their right to sue, regardless of the strength of their case.

In addition, the statute of limitations is not always written in stone. Certain circumstances can stop the clock for a particular period, such as when the injured party is a minor or when the at-fault party leaves the state.

An experienced boat accidents lawyer can help determine whether any exceptions apply in your case.

How Much Is My Boating Accident Case Worth?

The value of your boat accident case will depend on a number of factors. This is because there’s no standard settlement or value for such cases.

Examples of factors that could influence the value of your claim include the following:

  • whether your injuries are catastrophic;
  • the damages incurred;
  • the impact of the injuries on your life;
  • whether the injuries are long-term or short-term; 
  • whether you were partly at fault and to what degree 


A boat accident lawyer is a highly skilled legal professional who can help you navigate the difficult waters of maritime law. Whether you have been hurt in an accident or had a loved one suffer an injury on a vessel, there are specific remedies available to recover damages. 

Hiring a specialized boating accident attorney to fight for your best interests can ensure that your rights and those of your family members are fully protected should any legal action be necessary.  


Written by
Kendra Strobel

Kendra Strobel, Esq. is a 2017 graduate of the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. She is now a Pennsylvania based litigation attorney. During law school, she served as the President of the Pitt Law Women’s Association and class representative for various other organizations. She is a member of her local bar association, the Pennsylvania Bar Association, the American Bar Association, and the National Association of Women Lawyers.

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