According to the U.S. Coast Guard, 710 people were killed and 3,474 were injured in recreational boating accidents in 2006. These statistics represent an increase in deaths and injuries attributable to boating accidents for the second consecutive year. Alcohol use is cited as the leading contributing factor in fatal boating accidents, accounting for nearly 20 percent of all reported fatalities. Primary contributing factors in all boating accidents include operator inattention, careless/reckless operation, excessive speed, and lack of a proper lookout. Defective products, including machinery system and equipment system failure, are also cited as contributing factors in boating accidents.
With nearly 900,000 registered boats, California ranks second in the nation for the number of boats registered; only Florida has more registered boats than California. Not surprisingly, California also ranks second to Florida in the number of injuries and fatalities in boating accidents.
Boating Under the Influence (BUI)
Boating Under the Influence (BUI) can be just as deadly as drinking and driving. Alcohol consumption on the water is considered by the Coast Guard to be even more deadly than alcohol consumption on land. The rationale is that the marine environment (the motion of the water, wind, vibration, sun and spray) accelerates a drinker’s impairment. These stressors cause fatigue which leads to lapses in judgment, impaired coordination, and delays in reaction time. Alcohol impairs your vision, balance and coordination. Statistics show that in boating accidents involving alcohol, over half capsized their boats or fell overboard.
Alcohol is also considered more dangerous for boaters than drivers because boat operators are generally less experienced and less confident on the water than on the highway. Most boaters average about 110 hours a year on the water, whereas most operate a motor vehicle on a roadway on a daily basis. In California, you do not need a license to operate a boat; anyone over the age of 16 may operate a boat, even if they have never taken a boating safety course.
The Coast Guard and the State of California have stringent laws governing Boating Under the Influence. The legal limit for boating is the same as for driving a car-a blood alcohol level greater than .08. A conviction for BUI may result in suspension or revocation of your driver’s license for up to five years and a fine of up to $1,000. If the Coast Guard determines that a boat operator is intoxicated, they will operate or have a competent, unintoxicated person aboard the boat operate the boat back to the dock. The intoxicated boat operator may be arrested by the Coast Guard, detained until sober, or turned over to local authorities.
Product Defects and Boating Accidents
The Recreational Boating Product Assurance Division of the U.S. Coast Guard is responsible for developing and enforcing federal safety standards, interpreting federal standards, and investigating consumer complaints. In addition, this division also does the following:
- Inspects and tests boats for compliance with safety standards
- Investigates consumer complaints about alleged safety defects and non-compliance with safety standards
- Interprets federal safety standards
- Handles requests for exemptions from federal standards
- Encourages the development of voluntary safety standards by national and international boating organizations
- Assigns Manufacturers Identification Codes (MIC) to boat manufacturers
- Publishes the Boating Safety Circular newsletters
- Issues recalls of recreational boats and related equipment
The Coast Guard maintains a Recall Database where consumers can search for safety alerts and recalls on recreational boats by hull number, manufacturer, model number or by description of the problem. To access the database, visit http://www.uscgboating.org/recalls/recall_database.aspx
Carbon Monoxide Poisoning on Boats
Defective boating equipment may result in carbon monoxide poisoning onboard. In 2006, carbon monoxide poisoning resulted in 51 injuries and 12 deaths on recreational boats. Carbon monoxide is an odorless, tasteless, colorless gas that is produced by the burning of carbon-based fuel, such as gasoline, propane, charcoal or oil. Sources of carbon monoxide leaks on recreational boats include engines, gas generators, cooking ranges, and space and water heaters.
Early symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning include dizziness, nausea, headache, irritated eyes and weakness. Since these symptoms often accompany seasickness or intoxication, it is often difficult to detect carbon monoxide poisoning. Prolonged exposure to carbon monoxide leads to death.
A common recreational activity known as “teak surfing” has resulted in numerous cases of carbon monoxide poisoning. Teak surfing involves holding on to the swim platform or transom of a boat to bodysurf behind the vessel. Effective January 1, 2005, teak surfing is against the law in California.
The Coast Guard has checklists of maintenance suggestions that boaters should follow. Some of the items should be checked before every voyage, others require inspection by a qualified marine technician at least once a year. To view the safety checklists, visit http://www.uscgboating.org/command/co/checklists.htm
California requires that beginning May 1, 2005, all motorized boats, whether new or used, sold in the State of California must bear carbon monoxide warning stickers on the transom and helm. For more information on carbon monoxide poisoning, or to place an order for stickers, visit the California Department of Boating and Waterways website at http://www.dbw.ca.gov/codanger.asp#decals.
Personal Floatation Devices-Life Jackets
A Personal Floatation Device (PFD) is a life jacket approved by the U.S. Coast Guard. Statistics show that two-thirds of all boating accident victims drowned. Of those who drowned, 90 percent were not wearing a PFD.
California law requires all children under the age of 12 to wear a PFD while on a waterway in any boat less than 26 feet. People who are towed behind a vessel (such as waterskiing) or riding a personal watercraft such as a jet ski must also wear a PFD. However, it is advisable for all passengers and boat operators to wear a PFD.
Reporting a Boating Accident
California law requires you to file a written report of a boating accident with the California Department of Boating and Waterways if the accident involves:
- A death
- A disappearance
- An injury requiring medical attention beyond first aid
- Damage to a vessel or other property exceeding $500, or complete loss of a vessel
The form used to report a boating accident (in pdf format) may be downloaded by clicking on the following link: http://www.dbw.ca.gov/PDF/AccidentForms/BAR.pdf
The information contained in these reports is confidential and are used for compiling statistics related to boating accidents and accident analysis only. The information contained in the report may not be used in a civil lawsuit or to prosecute any violations that may have occurred.
Resources for Victims of a Boating Accident
The U.S. Coast Guard website has information on recreational boating accident statistics http://www.uscgboating.org/statistics/accident_statistics.aspx
Link to the Laws and Regulations governing boating http://www.uscgboating.org/regulations/
Publications and Brochures available from the U.S. Coast Guard on topics including boating safety, propeller danger and other issues relating to recreational boating
Boating Safety Course information from the U.S. Coast Guard: Seventy percent of all accidents involve operator errors, therefore the Coast Guard recommends that all boat operators take a boating safety course http://www.uscgboating.org/safety/boating_safety_courses_.aspx
Information on Carbon Monoxide poisoning on boats, including how to protect yourself and your family, maintenance tips, and other safety information http://www.uscgboating.org/safety/carbon_monoxide.aspx
Information on Vessel Safety Checks, including an online vessel safety checklist and information on how to have your boat inspected for safety http://www.safetyseal.net/
Boating Under the Influence (BUI)-get the facts on the dangers of BUI, and the laws and penalties regarding BUI http://www.uscgboating.org/safety/boating_under_the_influence_initiatives.aspx
The Coast Guard maintains a Recall Database where consumers can search for safety alerts and recalls by hull number, manufacturer, model number or by description of the problem http://www.uscgboating.org/recalls/recalls_database.htm
California Department of Boats and Waterways has information on safety, facilities, and state laws and regulations www.dbw.ca.gov
To view the California Laws and Regulations governing boaters in California, visit
Boating accidents often involve a complex mix of product liability, negligence, and insurance issues. If you or a loved one have been injured in a boating accident, you need a personal injury attorney with experience in handling boat accident cases. Call William E. Weiss at (888) 622-7274 for a free consultation today.