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Who Is Liable in a Boating Accident?

In a boating accident, one of the following parties can be held liable: the operator of the boat, the owner, the manufacturer, the rental company, or even a passenger. However, it is important to keep in mind that there are cases when, due to unforeseen circumstances, liability can be difficult or even impossible to determine.


There are more than 12,000,000 boats registered in the US and each year more than 4,700 recreational boating accidents take place, causing the death of more than 700 individuals.

Even if boating accidents are not fatal in most cases, passengers can still suffer severe, debilitating injuries ranging from fractures to spinal cord injuries, traumatic brain injuries, and lost limbs.

There are many factors that can cause a boating accident, from operator negligence to malfunctioning equipment and harsh weather conditions. When boating accidents happen, injured victims have the right to file financial claims against responsible parties.

However, determining liability in boating accidents is often difficult and requires the investigation of experts, as water tends to ruin the traces of the accident, making the accident reconstruction quite challenging.

Some examples of parties that might be held responsible for boating accidents include:

  1. The operator of the boat: he/she failed to provide reasonable safety for the passengers, he/she was intoxicated while operating the vessel, he/she engaged in reckless operations or disregarded boating laws.

    On recreational boats, an approved life jacket that is the correct size for the wearer and in good condition must be available for each person. Owners and masters who do not have enough lifejackets on board, or who do not have their passengers wear life jackets when required, are liable for penalties.

    In general, Federal law requires that boaters have a Coast Guard-approved wearable, life jacket (Type I, II, or III) for each person on board the vessel. Boats greater than 16 feet in length must carry a Coast Guard-approved throwable device (Type IV).

    On a vessel that is underway, children under 13 years of age must wear an appropriate U.S. Coast Guard-approved wearable life jacket unless they are below deck, or within an enclosed cabin. If a state has established a child life jacket wear requirement that differs from the Coast Guard requirement, the state requirement will be applicable to waters subject to that state's jurisdiction.

  2. A passenger of the boat who acted in a reckless manner, or prevented the operator from fulfilling his or her duty.
  3. The operator of the boat who failed to interfere with the passengers' reckless behavior, although he knew about it.
  4. The owner of the boat, if he/she knowingly loaned the boat to someone who was not qualified to operate it.

    The NASBLA boating courses are an accreditation program that is accepted by the coast guard as the national standard of certification and training for operating a boat. In Florida, boat operators 21 years old or younger are required to carry a photo ID while operating the vessel and to take an approved boating safety course to obtain a Boating Safety Identification Card. This card is valid for life and enables you to operate a boat with 10 horsepower or more.

    To operate a motorboat with 10 horsepower or more, boat operators who were born on or after January 1, 1988, are required by law to obtain a Florida Boating Safety Education Identification Card. The state of Florida does not have a "boating license".

    The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC)-issued Boating Safety Identification Card is proof that you successfully completed the online boating course.

    The National Association of State Boating Law Administrators (NASBLA) is responsible for the review and approval of recreational boating safety courses in the United States. NASBLA-approved courses must meet National Boating Education Standards 1 through 7, and 9. All states and territories must maintain their state-specific topics in standard 8. All recreational boating safety courses approved by NASBLA are recognized by the U.S. Coast Guard.

  5. The manufacturer of the boat, in case the accident resulted from a manufacturing defect.
  6. The rental company, in case they failed to fix maintenance problems.

For a boat to be Coast Guard documented, it must be at least 5 net tons and must be wholly owned by a citizen of the U.S. Net tonnage is a measure of a vessel's volume and should not be confused with the vessel's weight, which may also be expressed in tons. Most vessels that are longer than 25 feet will measure 5 net tons or more under the Simplified Measurement System, although, they may measure less than 5 net tons if formally measured. For information about how tonnages are determined, including the simplified measurement form that calculates tonnages, click HERE.

How Can The Law Offices of Sean M. Cleary Help You?

Another issue boating accident victims should consider is that boating injury cases are subject to the maritime law rather than state personal injury laws. That means they will be handled differently and settled according to other laws than terrestrial personal injury cases.

If you or a loved one has been injured in a boat accident due to someone’s negligence, you should seek an experienced attorney right away.

If a boat operator is at fault and does not have insurance, or adequate liquefiable assets, you could face challenges securing your claim to damages. An attorney has the necessary skills to help get the compensation you deserve.

The damages that can be recovered from a boating accident lawsuit can include the victim's medical expenses, loss of wages, loss of earning capacity, property damages, pain and suffering, and other types of damages to an amount that depends on the severity of the injuries, liability, and circumstances of the accident.

In 2012, the Coast Guard counted 4,515 accidents that involved 651 deaths, 3,000 injuries, and approximately $38 million dollars of damage to property as a result of recreational boating accidents. Victims who suffered these losses have the right to monetary compensation, in case they can prove:

  • the defendant is liable for the accident;
  • the accident resulted in injuries;
  • the injuries led to financial losses.

Like in other personal injury cases, plaintiffs can recover the following damages:

  • costs of medical treatment;
  • pain and suffering;
  • loss of income during recovery;
  • loss of earning capacity;
  • loss of companionship;
  • property damages.

The amount of compensation each victim will receive varies greatly, depending on the severity of the injuries, the circumstances of the accident, and whether the victim shares liability for the accident or not. The general purpose of monetary awards is to restore the victim's pre-accident financial condition. In case the defendant acted in an extremely negligent manner or his attitude can be characterized as outrageous, the plaintiff might be awarded punitive damages as well.

If you are a Miami resident who suffered a boating injury due to someone else's negligence call Sean M. Cleary - Miami boating accident lawyer today.

For questions and free legal advice to help individuals please call us

Disclaimer: Please note that the information provided on this site is not formal legal advice, also the site does not allow you to form an attorney-client relationship.