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What You Need to Know about Boating Accidents in Michigan

Legally Reviewed and Edited by: Terry Cochran

One of the wonderful things about Michigan is that we are partly surrounded by the Great Lakes. Four of the Great Lakes are the waters that carve out the shape of our great state and what many people don’t realize is that those four lakes combined with Lake Ontario make up 20% of the world’s surface fresh water.

And where you have such large bodies of water there is always going to be a preponderance of water sports, from kayaking to jet skis. Unfortunately, large numbers of recreational boating means an increased chance of accidents occuring. If you are injured in a boating accident, what are your rights and what action can you take?

How Dangerous is it?

As the number of personal watercraft on the Great Lakes and on inland waterways increases, the Coast Guard are seeing increasing numbers of accidents. The number of accidents went up from 92 in 2013 to 125 in 2016. And given the actual number of accidents, the fatality rate is very high, increasing from 21 in 2012 to 38 in 2016. At least $627,655 in damage was reported from the 2016 accidents.

What are the Main Causes?

Six percent of 2016’s accidents were blamed on inexperience and a lack of knowledge of boating safety. Fifteen percent of accidents involved alcohol. People think – wrongly – that because it is a recreation that using alcohol will not affect their safety or their ability to pilot what they see as a relatively slow moving craft.

Alcohol has been identified as the major cause of boating accidents nationally, with inexperience second and dangerous or hazardous water in third place.

What Constitutes a Boating Accident?

Recreational boating accidents can take many forms. Some of the most common types are:

  • Your boat running aground, capsizing, or sinking.
  • A person on board falling overboard from the boat or being thrown from the boat in the event of a collision.
  • A fire or explosion on the boat while the boat is at anchor, moored, or on open water.
  • Colliding with another vessel, a static object, or with debris (submerged or floating) in the water.
  • Incident involving water skiing or other towable activity.

Using the waterways around Michigan is a pursuit that should be carried out with care and respect to other users of the area. Have someone teach you basic boat safety, always wear life jackets, and follow other advice given by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

Reporting an Accident

If you are involved in a Michigan boating accident, you are required by law to report that accident to the relevant boating authority (in this case, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources) within 48 hours when the following circumstances apply:

  • Any death that occurs within 24 hours of the incident.
  • Any injury that needs medical treatment.
  • Any damage done to your boat or other property (such as a dock).
  • Any person who is lost from a boat and injury or death is suspected.

These rules cover all vessels using the inland waterways of Michigan or the Great Lakes. For the purposes of recording such information, the Coast Guard define a vessel as:

“…any watercraft or artificial contrivance used, or capable of being used, as a means of transportation on the water, including airboats, auxiliary sailboats, cabin motorboats, canoes, houseboats, inflatable boats, kayaks, open motorboats, personal watercraft, pontoon boats, rafts, rowboats, and sailboats.”

Michigan boating accident


While there is no requirement for licensing (even children under the age of 12 are permitted to drive low-powered motorboats) to use a vessel on Michigan’s waterways, there are some restrictions such as children under 14 not being allowed to operate a jet ski or similar.

When it comes to deciding on liability, it is much the same as other areas of personal injury law. Was there negligence and did that negligence lead to an accident that caused your injuries? Some of the most common types of negligence include:

  • Vessel operator distracted
  • Inexperienced vessel operator
  • Going too fast
  • Drinking alcohol while in charge of the vehicle (or using drugs)
  • Failure of vessel machinery
  • Overloaded vessel
  • Failure to provide lifebelts

To establish liability where any negligence is identified, you must:

  • Show that the defendant (who could be the boat owner, the operator, or a third party such as mechanics or technicians) owed you a legal duty of care.
  • That the defendant was in breach of that duty through their actions.
  • That any breach of duty was the cause of your injuries.

Where damages are awarded in a personal injury lawsuit resulting from boating collisions or accidents, the type of things covered are similar to other personal injury cases:

  • Medical expenses
  • Loss of wages
  • Property damage
  • Pain and suffering if relevant.

Casting Off

Spending a relaxing day on a vessel on the waters surrounding Michigan can be a lot of fun, but it can also be very dangerous. With so many contributing factors to boating accidents, if you plan on operating a vessel, always think safety first and observe the advice from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

If you have been involved in a boating accident and there were people injured, then you want the input and advice of an experienced boating accident lawyer. Cochran, Kroll & Associates, P.C. have extensive experience in all areas of personal injury claims including accidents on our lakes and waterways. We offer a free first appointment so we can evaluate your case so why not call today and book one at 866-MICH-LAW.

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.

Steve is a former criminal justice worker. With degrees in psychology and social work, he spent most of his life helping those with addiction issues before switching to criminal justice. He was responsible for writing court reports and advising judges on sentencing. He also supervised offenders, including sex offenders, in the community and carried out risk assessments and probation appraisals. He now lives in SE Asia and is working on his 5th novel.



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