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Rise in Boating Accidents During Pandemic

Summer in the Northeast, and especially in Massachusetts, is an opportunity for thousands to enjoy water sports or to get a boat into a harbor, lake, river, or pond. But this summer has seen an unprecedented spike in the number of boaters and, unfortunately, a commensurate rise in boating accidents.

Sailboat, jet ski, and power boat sales are through the roof, probably due to people being fed up with stay at home orders, closed recreational sites, and an itching to distract themselves from the virus. Because of social distancing rules and recommendations, being on the water can provide a safe distance from others. However, the rise in sales means that individuals who have never owned a sailing vessel or power boat before are pursuing a new and unfamiliar water activity without knowing how to safely operate their vessels.

Boat Accident Injuries

Boating is not an inexpensive pursuit unless you just want a rowboat, canoe, or kayak. Sailboats can cost from $100,000 to over a million dollars. A 30-foot powerboat can cost $150,000 to $200,000, and a used one runs from $20,000 to $40,000. For at least those buying used vessels, the cost may be not much more than the price of a motor vehicle. The difference is that most people learn how to drive a car and have to take a driving test to get a license. For a boat owners and adult boat operators, you do not need to take an operator’s test–just obtain a title and a registration and you are free to go. 

In pre-pandemic times, most boaters took a course in boating safety and operation. The Massachusetts Environmental Police (MEP) did provide boating safety education courses but stopped giving them due to Covid-19. The MEP has been working with the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators to offer boating education classes online that would lead to a temporary boating certificate. Later, a proctored exam would be given.

Boaters who are 12-15 years of age are required to complete a boating safety course if they are to operate a boat without adult supervision. 

Factors in Boating Accidents

Inexperience and not having the proper safety equipment onboard are some of the main factors in boating accidents and injuries. Others include:

  • Excessive speed—not obeying speed limits or ignoring warnings on speed in restricted areas can lead to collisions with other vessels or running into a jetty or pier
  • Use of alcohol and drugs—similar to driving a motor vehicle, you may not operate a boat if your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level is 0.08% or you are subject to arrest and loss of your driver’s license; impairment accounts for the majority of fatal boating accidents when operators use poor judgment or are  reckless, and inebriated passengers are prone to falling overboard
  • Operating in hazardous waters or in adverse weather—operators should monitor the weather before setting out and while on the water, and to immediately head for shore once imminent storm warnings are issued
  • Navigational rules violations—this can lead to grounding the boat or colliding with swimmers and other vessels
  • Machinery or equipment failure—it is the responsibility of the boat owner to maintain the vessel and make the necessary safety and equipment checks; fires and explosions on board occur each year on many vessels
  • Operator inattention—boat operators are required to be vigilant and aware of hazards and to take proper precautions
  • Force of waves and water—know how to maneuver a vessel when in a wake, which is a water disturbance resulting from passage of the boat’s hull that can cause serious injuries

Liability of Boat Operators and Owners

Boat owners and operators have a duty to exercise ordinary care when operating their vessels. This includes not only obeying navigational rules but to maintain their boats and to ensure all equipment is functioning properly, to be sure passengers are wearing life vests, to keep a proper lookout for hazards, and to not operate in hazardous waters or conditions. An operator’s failure to exercise due care which leads to an accident and injuries to passengers or other users of the waterway can lead to a negligence claim.

Massachusetts law does not require boat owners to possess liability or property damage insurance, though most owners should be covered for accidents, injuries that happen on their boat or because of negligent operation, or natural disaster incidents that can damage or destroy their expensive vessels. Also, you can purchase uninsured coverage in cases in case an at-fault boat owner lacks insurance coverage. 

Like any other personal injury claim, your personal injury lawyer still must prove liability by a boat owner or operator in causing your accident and injuries. Your lawyer may have to take witness statements, obtain accident reports, and have the vessel examined if a fire or suspected equipment failure led to injuries or death. The Boat and Recreation Safety Bureau investigates all motorboat and recreational vehicle accidents that result in serious injuries or death. 

Damages in a Boating Injury Claim

Damages in boating accidents can include:

  • Past and future medical expenses
  • Past and future income loss
  • Loss of earning capacity
  • Diminished quality of life
  • Pain and suffering
  • Emotional distress
  • Spousal claim for loss of consortium

Damages can often be difficult to demonstrate or prove. Allow an experienced personal injury lawyer to obtain all the required documentation so that you can have the best opportunity to achieve the results you deserve.

Retain a Personal Injury Lawyer from Burns and Jain

Few injury accident claims are without issues that can jeopardize or substantially reduce the value of your claim. Call us to discuss your boat accident claim and what we can do to help you. Contact the law firm of Burns and Jain at (617) 286-3594 for a free consultation about your injury claim.