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Why You Need a Michigan Boat Accident Attorney

Legally Reviewed and Edited by: Terry Cochran

With four of the Great Lakes surrounding it, Michigan has become a popular destination for leisure and commercial boating. Residents of the state are avid boaters, with 806,296 recreational vessels in Michigan, the third-highest number in the nation. While the many lakes, rivers, and water sports provide lots of leisurely opportunities, boating can be dangerous at times, and accidents occur.

In 2020, the United States Coast Guard reported that the number of boating accidents and deaths had increased nationwide, with Michigan accounting for 4% of boating accident deaths.

Michigan also has unique state laws and regulations regarding boat operators. Even if your watercraft is well-kept and you are experienced and knowledgeable, it’s possible for a reckless watercraft operator nearby to injure you and your passengers in a collision.

Any boating and watercraft accident might lead to severe injuries, trauma, and even death. Skilled boat accident attorneys in Michigan can help you understand boating laws, take legal action, and seek financial compensation for your losses.

What to Know About Michigan Boating Regulations

Maritime laws and regulations guide boat operators and owners in creating a safe driving environment on the water. The Department of Natural Resources governs Michigan’s waterways. Some counties have their own local boating laws governing water skiing, motorboating, and high-speed boating.

If you were born on or after July 1, 1996, you must complete a boater safety course before you can operate a motorized vessel in Michigan. A motorboat can be operated legally by minors under 12 without the supervision of someone 16, or older provided the boat’s motor is no more than 6 horsepower. If an adult accompanies the young boater over 16, they can drive a boat with a maximum horsepower of 35.

Maritime regulations also govern the use of personal watercraft (PWC). To operate a PWC, a 14-year-old or 15-year-old must possess a boating safety certificate and be accompanied by a parent or legal guardian.

Michigan’s lakes and waterways are crowded with young and inexperienced boat operators, those who are fishing, enjoying leisurely days on the water, and boats towing water skiers. Inexperienced watercraft operators can easily end up in a situation where the services of a Michigan boat accident lawyer are required.

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What Are the Most Common Causes of Boat Accidents?

Numerous factors play a role in boat accidents, which can seriously injure you or someone you love. Michigan’s Department of Natural Resources and the U.S. Coast Guard have noted these top factors that cause boat accidents, which can be later used in negligence cases.

Alcohol Intoxication

The U.S. Coast Guard states that alcohol use was the leading factor in fatal boating accidents based on 2019 data. When groups head out onto the water for a fun afternoon and fail to designate a specific individual to remain sober, there can be catastrophic consequences.

Designated drivers are just as crucial on a lake as when driving a motor vehicle on the highway. Unruly passengers under the influence of alcohol may also result in distracted driving on the water, causing the driver to lose focus.

Operator Inattention

While driving a boat, checking a text can easily lead to a collision with another boat or dock. While distracted, the operator may also be unaware of rapidly changing weather conditions that could put their vessel and passengers at risk. Even though it can be a relaxing hobby, boating requires the same level of attention to detail as driving a car.

Operator Inexperience

To get a boating license in Michigan, you must pass an exam, for which you’ll need to study in preparation. However, not all licensees will retain the information they learned when studying, presenting a hazard to other boaters. A lack of understanding of proper passing, signaling, and navigation protocols could result in an accident that affects multiple watercraft.

Improper Lookout

While the boat operator is ultimately responsible for what occurs on board, it is a good idea to appoint another person who functions as a proper lookout. When designating this spotter, specific situations are most important, such as when docking the boat, navigating a high traffic area, or when you’re towing an individual on a wakeboard, kneeboard, or water skis behind the boat.

Unreasonable Speeds

The speed limit on Michigan waterways is 55 mph unless otherwise posted. Speed regulations on the water are just as important to driver and passenger safety as on the highway. If an operator significantly exceeds the maximum speed on the water, they put themselves and others at risk should they lose control of the vessel.

Machinery Failure

There may also be problems or flaws with the machinery of the boat. Other flaws can be detected with the material, design, construction, or the manufacturer’s installation components involved in mechanical propulsion, such as the drive and steering system. If there were any defects or flaws with the boat that resulted in an accident causing bodily harm, talk to your lawyer about pursuing a product liability claim.

What Should I Do After a Boating Accident?

Several steps need to be taken after you’re involved in a boating accident. Following these practices can help provide a solid foundation for your lawyer when building your case.

Check for Overboard Passengers

Immediately following a collision or capsizing, account for all your passengers. If someone is overboard, give them a flotation device quickly if you are in a condition to do so. For everyone’s safety, you should be wearing life vests appropriate for your weight while out on the water.

Seek Immediate Medical Attention

Depending on the situation, assess whether anyone on your boat is in distress and requires medical attention. You should keep a first aid kit on board for handling minor cuts, bruises, and scrapes. If the injuries are more severe, seek professional medical care as soon as possible.

Exchange Contact Information

Exchange details with the opposite vessel for insurance purposes. Get the contact information of all the passengers on board and any other witnesses. Write down the boats’ registration number, insurance company, and policy number.

Collect Evidence

Make sure you take photos of any boat damage and injuries sustained by passengers on your vessel. Photographic evidence of injuries can prove useful in the event of a lawsuit.

File a Report With the Coast Guard

The United States Coast Guard requires operators of vessels to submit an official accident report within 48 hours if someone was critically injured or died. If no injuries occur, you have 10 days to file a report.

How to File a Boat Accident Report in Michigan

Federal law requires anyone involved in a boating accident to contact their local boating authority. In Michigan, as an operator of the boat, you must file your report with the Department of Natural Resources. This must be done as soon as possible. You must report any of these within 48 hours of the accident:

  • If a person dies within 24 hours
  • If a person loses consciousness, goes for medical treatment, or becomes disabled for more than 24 hours
  • If a person goes missing from the vessel

The form must be filed within 10 days if:

  • There is property damage or damage to the vessel that exceeds $2,000

Personal injury cases can use boating accident reports as evidence. As a result, if you’ve been injured in a boating accident, you should contact an experienced boat accident attorney at our law firm.

Types of Boating Accident Injury Claims

The severity of a boating accident can vary drastically from minor bruises to traumatic brain injuries or death in the worst-case scenario. If you find yourself unable to work, perform routine tasks, or function properly, it will negatively affect your quality of life and financial situation.

You may be able to seek damages for the pain you suffer if your boat accident was caused by another boater’s negligence or alcoholic intoxication. A boat accident lawyer is a valuable resource when determining who is liable for your injuries.


Michigan applies general negligence laws to boating accidents, meaning you must prove that the person who caused your injuries failed to exercise reasonable care in the circumstances, resulting in the injuries and damages you suffered.

Common forms of negligence include alcoholic intoxication, operator inattention, reckless operation, and machinery failure. Failing to follow safety regulations also constitutes negligence, such as traveling at excessive speeds and disregarding the safety of passengers and other boaters.

Product Liability

It’s sometimes possible to sue a boat manufacturer if a flaw in the boat’s design or construction resulted in your losses. General product liability law holds manufacturing companies responsible for defective items that lead to injury, including boats and other watercraft.

Boating Injuries: What Are My Legal Options?

It is possible for people injured in a boating accident to file a lawsuit to recover damages. Criminal charges can be filed against a boater who is negligent or acts under the influence.

Non-economic Damages

These damages cover non-quantifiable effects of the accident like bodily pain and suffering, mental anguish, disfigurement, scarring, and loss of enjoyment of life. It is not possible to set a specific formula for calculating these damages. They are determined case by case.

Economic Damage

This includes lost wages, medical bills, and other financial losses. These losses are easier to determine and represent dollar amounts claimed in the formal complaint.

Wrongful Death

The surviving family members of a victim may launch a wrongful death lawsuit in the event of a fatality due to another party’s negligence.

Boating Accident Attorneys: A Legal Team You Can Trust

The ripple effect of being on the water in Michigan during a tragic event can be profound and life-changing. Boat accidents may result in injuries if the operator is untrained or distracted or if the boat’s mechanical components malfunction unexpectedly.

If you have been hurt or lost a loved one in a serious boating accident in Michigan, call the law firm of Cochran, Kroll, and Associates P.C. at 1-866-MICH-LAW or for a free consultation. We will guide you through your legal options, including filing a claim so you can maximize your chances of receiving compensation.


Is there a statute of limitations for boating accidents?

According to Michigan law, a personal injury claim must be filed within three years after the accident in which you became injured. However, the time limit for filing a report with the coast guard is much shorter. Contacting a boat accident attorney following a collision is critical so you can file claims and reports before applicable time limits expire.

Would it be a good idea to deal directly with insurance companies?

Insurance companies will try to persuade you to settle before you understand the full extent of your losses, meaning you likely won’t get full compensation. Boat accident lawyers can help you avoid making mistakes that could damage your claim by negotiating with insurance companies on your behalf.

Disclaimer : The information provided is general and not for legal advice. The blogs are not intended to provide legal counsel and no attorney-client relationship is created nor intended.



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