Jetboats are a unique and potentially dangerous form of water transportation. A jetboat has internal engine driving pump-jet that produces thrust through a nozzle on the back of the vessel. The nozzle direction can be changed to steer the craft underway. It is common for jetboats to cruise at over 40 miles per hour.
Jetboats are operated both commercially and recreationally. Commercial jetboats often carry 50 paying passengers or more at a time with very powerful engines (hundreds of horsepower). The rides may include tours, highspeed stretches, quick turns, spin out maneuvers, crash stops, and wave jumping. There are commercial jetboat operators on the following waterways served by Mariner Law, PLLC:
Willamette River, Oregon
Rogue River, Oregon
Deception Pass, Washington
Susitna River, Alaska
Hudson River, New York
East River, New York
Recreational jetboats can perform all the same maneuvers as commercial jetboats. One big difference is operator experience. Commercial jetboats carrying ticketed passengers are typically driven by a master (captain) who has been licensed by the United States Coast Guard. The master is also supported by crewmembers who have been trained on man overboard, firefighting, and bilging emergencies. Merchant mariners are subject to random drug testing and personal health standards.
Another big difference between passenger jetboats and leisure jetboats is vessel maintenance. Vessels carrying numerous passengers for hire are subject to inspection by the Coast Guard. This includes an annual inspection of the vessel underway with its crew performing safety drills, and hull inspections every few years to confirm plating integrity.
Non-commercial jetboats are more like personal watercraft (a.k.a. jet skis), though they are shaped more like a traditional runabout recreational boat. Passengers can sit side-by-side instead of inline. Jetboats can travel at high speeds and can be hard to control. Many inexperienced operators crash jetboats because they failed to understand that steering underway required the throttle to be engaged. Stated differently, they don’t know that the jetboat can’t steer when it’s slowing down quickly.
Jetboat accidents can be catastrophic—especially when multiple passengers are involved. Collisions with other watercraft, striking stationary objects, passengers being thrown overboard, groundings, rapid starts/stops, and unexpected turns contribute to jetboat casualties every year.
The main causes of jetboat accidents usually include:
Disobeying the Rules of the Road
Boating under the influence
Towing accidents (tubing, skiing, wakeboarding)
Sadly, too many people continue to lose their lives on jetboats. But any jetboat injury can be serious and life-threatening. These include:
Maritime law may provide compensation for injuries suffered aboard jetboats. But speaking with an experienced maritime lawyer as soon as possible is key. What damages are available may depend on the applicable statutes and common law. For example, deckhands and captains on commercial jetboats may qualify as Jones Act seamen. Seamen is a status determination of workers who spend a certain percentage of their time in service of vessels in navigable waters. They are protected from negligence under federal law, the Jones Act. They are also protected by the ancient doctrine of unseaworthiness, which requires a vessel and its equipment/crew to be fit for duty. Seamen injured aboard passenger jetboats can also claim maintenance and cure. These are a pair of common law remedies to assist with medical expenses and living expenses while the mariner recovers.
Injured jetboat passengers are not entitled to maintenance and cure, Jones Act protection, or unseaworthiness claims. Instead, they can make a claim for negligence under general maritime law. But time is of the essence! The negligent jetboat owner may have created a 6-month window to report claims and a one-year limitation period in which injury claims can be brought.
If you or a loved one was harmed or tragically killed during a jetboat accident, you might be entitled to compensation under maritime law. Please contact a Jones Act lawyer at Mariner Law, PLLC for a free consultation to understand your options. The firm has extensive experience negotiating with insurance companies and litigating in court to advance the interests to injured mariners and seek justice. There’s no obligation to speak with an experienced admiralty attorney now: (253) 600-2531. The firm proudly serves mariner clients in Washington, Oregon, New York, Connecticut, Alaska, and nationwide.