There’s nothing quite like getting out on the water and enjoying the many beautiful lakes, rivers, and miles of coastline here in Texas. However, a great day on the water can quickly turn into a terrible time in the emergency room – or worse – if people fail to follow basic boating safety laws and guidelines.
Boating accidents can occur at any time and run the gamut from collisions to capsizing. According to an article by KLTV, between January and April 2021, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department reported a 40% increase in boating fatalities over the previous year.
Similar to operating a car, a person operating a boat is responsible for the boat and its passengers. If you or a loved one suffered an injury due to a boating accident – or if a loved one lost their life in a boating accident – it is important to know who is at fault. In many instances, the boat’s owner or operator may be liable if their actions or failure to act caused or in some way contributed to the accident or incident in which you or your loved one were injured.
What are the most common types of boating accidents?
Boating accidents occur every day and include a range of incidents, such as:
- Collisions, including between boats and other watercrafts and between boats and stationary objects
- Capsizing, swamping, sinking, or running aground
- People falling overboard
- Failure to wear a life jacket or personal flotation device while in or on the water
What causes most boating accidents?
According to the United States Coast Guard’s 2020 Boating Safety Statistics Report, the top five primary contributing factors in boating accidents are:
- Operator Inattention. Operating a boat is a tremendous responsibility. While it may be tempting to relax and simply enjoy being out on the water, the boat operator must keep in mind that their number one priority is keeping everyone safe on the water. This means remaining focused on the water and the boat’s surroundings whenever the boat is in motion, being aware of when and where the boat is stopping or anchoring, and always paying attention to the weather.
- Operator Inexperience. A boat operator who lacks the knowledge and experience to properly handle the boat can get everyone on it killed. While that may sound a bit dramatic, it is the truth. In addition to knowing how to operate the boat, boat operators should have at least a basic understanding and knowledge of the rules and regulations of boating, and should know what to do in the event of an emergency.According to the U.S. Coast Guard report, “where instruction was known, 77% of deaths occurred on boats where the operator did not receive boating safety instruction,” compared with 12% of fatalities on boats where “the operator was known to have received a nationally approved boating safety education certificate.”
- Improper Lookout. The person in charge of operating the boat has an important job, but so does the lookout. Where would the Titanic have been if the lookout had been able to spot the iceberg early? Perhaps not in pieces at the bottom of the North Atlantic. While your casual boat outing is unlikely to end in such a dramatic fashion, it is crucial to appoint a lookout whose job it is to keep a close eye on the boat’s surroundings. This is especially important if anyone on the boat decides to partake in any water sports. While the boat’s driver must keep their eyes on the water in front of and around the boat, the lookout can assist by keeping an eye on anyone waterskiing, tubing, or wakeboarding, and make sure any surrounding boats are aware that there are people in the water.
- Excessive Speed. Speeding on the water may seem less dangerous than speeding on the roads, but it can be just as deadly. All it takes is a moment of inattention on the part of the boat operator – or the operator of another boat or watercraft – and a crash can occur. A high rate of speed increases the likelihood of serious injuries or fatalities.
- Machinery Failure. Like any vehicle, a boat must be properly maintained in order to perform as intended. A boat that does not received regularly scheduled maintenance and any necessary repairs may not be seaworthy. Engine or steering malfunctions can cause serious injuries. You could be left stranded on a boat with an engine that stops working, or worse, collide with another watercraft or a stationary object if your steering fails. Boat operators must ensure that the boat is stocked with all necessary and working equipment, including life preservers, navigation lights, and flares.
Additional contributing factors to boat accidents include:
- Boat operators or passengers who fail to act responsibly, and in fact, are downright reckless, can easily cause or contribute to a serious or even fatal boating accident. Reckless behavior on the water includes having too many people on the boat or engaging in any activity such as fighting or hanging over the side of the boat, that may result in anyone falling overboard.
- Alcohol or Substance Use. A cold drink always seems like a good idea on a hot day while out on the water. However, it is important to remember that Texas laws regarding blood alcohol content (BAC) are the same for boaters as they are for drivers. Anyone operating a watercraft who is found to have a BAC of .08 or greater can be charged with a criminal offense and have their license suspended for anywhere from six months to one year. If an accident occurs and people are injured or killed because the boat operator’s BAC level was above the legal limit, they may be found criminally liable.According to the U.S. Coast Guard, “alcohol use is the leading known contributing factor in fatal boating accidents; where the primary cause was known.”
What kind of injuries can occur in a boating accident?
Depending on the type accident, a variety of injuries can occur in a boating accident. They can range from mild to severe or catastrophic and of course can be fatal:
- Back injuries, including lower back injuries
- Broken bones and fractures
- Burn injuries
- Joint injuries, especially involving the hips, knees, or shoulders
- Neck injuries, such as whiplash
- Spinal Cord Injuries (SCI)
- Sprains and strains
- Traumatic amputation
- Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)
Any accident on the water can lead to drowning, and boating is of course no exception. In fact, U.S. Coast Guard statistics show that in incidents where the cause of death is known, 75% of fatal boating accident victims drowned. Additionally, of those who drowned where life jacket usage was known, a hopping 86% were not wearing a life jacket.
What should you do if you were injured in a boating accident?
If you or a loved one suffered an injury in a boating accident, you should consult an attorney immediately. Depending on the type and severity of your injuries, you may need extensive medical treatment and expensive long-term care. The Texas personal injury lawyers at Slack Davis Sanger have experience handling boating accident cases. We fight on your behalf to help ensure you receive the compensation you deserve.
With offices in Austin, Dallas, and Fort Worth, we provide compassionate, strategic representation to boating accident victims and their loved ones throughout Texas. Give us a call at 800-455-8686 or complete our contact form today to schedule an appointment.
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