Boating Accidents
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Three Common Causes of Boating Accidents

Legally Reviewed and Edited by: Terry Cochran

Boating accidents are common in Michigan and across the country. There was a 26.3% increase in boat accidents nationwide in 2020, with 6.5 deaths per 100,000 registered recreational vessels. These boating accidents could have been avoided if the boat operator had been properly trained with adequate experience or taken necessary precautions while behind the wheel.

According to the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG), the top three common causes of recreational boating accidents in 2020 are operator inattention, operator inexperience, and improper lookout. By understanding these causes, you can take steps to prevent them from happening to you or someone else who enjoys recreational boating.

Operator Inattention

Boating is a relaxing pastime, but it’s easy to become complacent and distracted by your surroundings when operating a boat yourself, increasing the risk of a potential boating accident.

In 2020, 664 boating accidents were caused by operator inattention. Of those cases, 383 people were injured, and 55 people died. Boats require the same amount of care as any other vehicle. You must remain aware at all times while operating a boat so nobody on your vessel or the water gets hurt.

Before you head out on the water, memorize where your boat controls are located so you can reach them quickly without looking down or going over excessive speeds by accident. Look at the weather conditions and check if your boat is in good condition to go out safely. If possible, let other passengers take care of tasks like taking pictures or changing the music so that they won’t distract you from focusing on steering safely.

Causes of Boating Accidents

Operator Inexperience

Various age-related rules and regulations apply to Michigan boat safety training. Those under the age of 12 can operate a boat under 6 horsepower with no restrictions. If they want to operate a boat up to 35 horsepower, they must have a boating safety course certificate and be under direct supervision from someone over 16. However, anyone born before July 1, 1996, can operate a boat with no restrictions.

Boat operators who lack the proper experience and training of operating a vessel can endanger everyone on board. In 2020, 77% of fatal boat accidents occurred on boats where the operator did not receive adequate boating safety instruction.

To reduce the risk of accidents, inexperienced boaters should not operate a boat without guidance from someone more experienced. The Michigan Department of Natural Resources recommends enrolling in a boat safety course, including those from other organizations like the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary.

Improper Lookout

Boat owners and operators must remain constantly aware of their surroundings when operating a boat. Swimmers may not be visible on the water’s surface, but other factors like submerged objects can cause serious accidents if you don’t have someone acting as a proper lookout. Under Rule 5 of the U.S. and international maritime navigation rules, it is critical to have a lookout at all times to assess the risk of collisions with other boats.

Designating someone aboard to be the lookout can help you avoid potential accidents. Bring binoculars, radios, and other tools to help the individual be thorough. Check for unlit navigation buoys on your intended boating route by researching local waterways before you depart.

Contact a Boat Accident Lawyer

These steps can help you prevent boating accidents, ensuring the safety of passengers on your boat and those on other vessels. If you or someone you love experienced a wrongful death or serious injury in a boating accident caused by any of these factors, it is important to speak with an experienced boat accident attorney for legal advice regarding compensation.

With knowledge of personal injury law and maritime law, attorneys at Cochran, Kroll, & Associates, P.C., can help ensure your rights are protected if you were injured in a boating accident. Call us at 866-MICH-LAW to schedule your free consultation.


What are the top boat accident types?

The top five types of boat accidents are:

  • Collision with recreational vessels
  • Flooding/swamping
  • Collision with a fixed object
  • Grounding
  • Falls overboard

The boat operator can prevent all of these by taking the proper boat safety precautions and getting a boat safety certification before they head out on the water.

How quickly should I file an accident report in Michigan?

The U.S. Coast Guard requires vessel operators to file an official accident report within 48 hours if someone was injured or has died. Operators of all vessels, including watercraft used for transportation, must file reports. If there were no injuries in the accident, you have ten days to file in Michigan.

Who is liable after my boat collides with another boat?

Boat collisions are treated the same as car accidents. If someone is to blame for your injuries, they may be liable and must pay damages. It is possible to file a personal injury claim after finding that a boat operator was negligent, resulting in harm to another person.

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.

Jasmine Holt is a freelance writer specializing in legal content marketing for attorneys and law firms. She hopes to provide better legal advice to the general public using her previous experience working with a franchise company and a law firm. In her spare time, she enjoys spending time with her family and traveling.



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