Recreational boats are designed and manufactured with non-commercial uses in mind. They are also known as leisure craft or pleasure craft. These fun-loving vessels are not typically allowed to carry groups of paying passengers (a.k.a. passengers for hire).
Pleasure boats can take many forms on different bodies of water all over the country. Because regional boat builders recognize the vessel navigational needs of their local marine environment, recreational boats in the various areas of the country can develop distinct characteristics. Generally, though, all of the following can be recreational boats:
Runabouts (bow riders)
Fishing boats (bass boats)
Personal watercraft (jet skis)
Fish n’ Ski boats
Skiffs (jon boats)
The common denominator for recreational boats is that they are not manned by well-educated and experienced merchant mariners. Leisure craft operators and passengers are not on the water for the majority of their lives. This is not how they make a living. Consequently, they are less familiar with boat navigational dynamics and the Rules of the Road. And yet, there is hardly an upper limit on the size, horsepower, and speed available to pleasure boaters for purchase. This can lead to disaster.
The United States Coast Guard publishes annual statistics on boating accidents. Year after year, the numbers paint an unsafe and frightening picture. Here’s just a few facts from the 2019 boating season:
There were 1,071 collisions with recreational vessel resulting in 650 injuries and 47 deaths
There were another 493 allisions with stationary objects leading to 326 injuries and 44 deaths
Open motorboats were associated with 201 drownings and 1,246 injuries
So, what’s causing all these pleasure craft injuries and loss of life? The Coast Guard identified ten leading factors:
1. Operator inattention (546 accidents and 36 deaths)
2. Improper lookout (506 accidents and 26 deaths)
3. Operator inexperience (458 accidents and 39 deaths)
4. Excessive speed (358 accidents and 22 deaths)
5. Alcohol use (282 accidents and 113 deaths)
6. Machinery failure (274 accidents and 18 deaths)
7. Violating the Rules of the Road (235 accidents and 21 deaths)
8. Weather (184 accidents and 31 deaths)
9. Hazardous waters (170 accidents and 48 deaths)
10. Force of wake and waves (140 accidents and 12 deaths)
Still other common accidents lead to injuries on leisure boats: capsizing (overturning), sailing vessel booms striking boaters, dockside crushes and amputations, falling overboard (man overboard), docking line injuries, propeller strikes, towing mistakes, and watersport mishaps.
Mariner Law, PLLC represents clients who were injured on or by pleasure boats all over the country. Specifically, the firm serves these busy waterways where recreational boating is common:
San Juan Islands, WA
Lake Union, WA
Lake Washington, WA
Puget Sound, WA
Elliot Bay, WA
Lake Sammamish, WA
Columbia River, WA and OR
Willamette River, OR
Henry Hagg Lake, OR
Lake Billy Chinook, OR
New York Harbor, NY
Hudson River, NY
East River, NY
Saint Lawrence Seaway, NY
Lake Ontario, NY
Lake Erie, NY
Long island Sound, NY and CT
Candlewood Lake, CT
Connecticut River, CT
Mystic River, CT
Recreational boating injury claims can be complex. Many are surprised to learn that not everybody of water is subject to maritime law. That means state law could be applicable.
For those leisure boating accidents that are subject to maritime common law, the claim is typically for negligence on the part of a vessel owner or vessel operator. Claims can be made by operators and passengers alike. Negligence occurs when a party fails to exercise reasonable care around another and that failure leads to an injury. Negligence findings under maritime law may open the door to monetary damages such as medical expenses, lost wages, disability, disfigurement, and pain and suffering.
Unlike larger commercial vessels, recreational boats are often underinsured. That means that even when severe injuries are suffered or lives are lost, there may not be sufficient insurance money available to compensate victims. This is just one of many reasons that anyone who suffered an injury on or near a recreational vessel should contact an experienced maritime lawyer as a matter of urgency—especially in cases of wrongful death. A seasoned admiralty lawyer can help you investigate the facts and consider your options under the Jones Act, LHWCA, unseaworthiness, and maintenance and cure.
Mariner Law, PLLC exclusively represents injured mariners. The firm knows admiralty law and the recreational boating industry. As a licensed vessel master, Maritime Attorney Adam Deitz is also well-familiar with the Rules of the Road and navigational safety issues. Don’t guess at what you’re entitled to under maritime law. Call today and speak to a maritime lawyer. There’s no obligation and the consultation with a Jones Act lawyer is no cost: (253) 600-2531. The firm proudly serves mariner clients in Washington, Oregon, New York, Connecticut, Alaska, and nationwide.