Boating accidents can occur even when the operator is highly trained. Sadly, not unlike operating a car, no matter how carefully you drive or what your skill level behind the wheel may be, you cannot predict, nor can you control, how another driver may react to an unexpected event or merely have a moment of grievously bad judgment.
While there may be variations within individual states with regard to reporting requirements, there are Federally-mandated guidelines in place for notifying the proper authorities of a boating accident. Boat operators (or owners if the operator is unavailable for any reason) are required by Federal law to report an accident if any of the following conditions apply:
- If a death results from the accident.
- If an injury results which requires medical intervention beyond basic first aid.
- If a person disappears from the boat in such a manner that might reasonably result in death or injury.
- If the accident results in property damage to either the boat and/or other property which exceeds the amount of $2,000.
- If the accident results in a complete loss of the vessel itself.
Additional requirements apply with regard to timeliness of reporting:
- If the accident results in death, injury, or missing person(s), an accident report should be made within 48 hours.
- If the accident results in property damage only, regulations allow up to 10 days to file a report.
It is crucial to bear in mind that failure to report an accident which meets any of the above criteria is a criminal offense. The report should be made to whatever local authority oversees boating. Depending on the circumstances, it may also be necessary to file a report with the Coast Guard. Local authorities would be able to make that decision, and advise accordingly.
Who is at Fault?
The first step in reporting a boating accident is making a determination as to who is legally responsible. This will determine liability for damages, and, depending on the circumstances, may also result in criminal and/or civil liability. It may be a good idea to consult with an attorney who specializes in boating accidents. This would ensure that your legal rights are protected, particularly if you are determined to be at fault. It is advisable to refrain from making any statements, or signing any official documents pertaining to the accident until you have ensured that your rights are protected.
You will, of course, be required to provide such basic information as your name (if you were the operator of the boat), the boat identification, location of the accident, person(s) involved, damage to property, injury to person(s) (if any), and a description of how the accident occurred.
Reporting a boating accident to your insurance company does not differ greatly from reporting a car accident. Once the basic reports are filed, simply call your agent and let him/her know what happened. He/she will have access to the reports on file, and can get any further information required either directly from you, from the on-scene authorities, or (if you have consulted an attorney) from your legal representation.
Just as you would exchange insurance information at the scene of an auto accident, you should exchange the same information for a boating accident. But be sure to also get the other boat’s name and hull ID number in addition to the usual statistics. If you have filed a detailed inventory of any valuables contained on your boat with your insurance company, property damage reporting is greatly simplified. Also, it is a good idea to get contact information from any witnesses to the accident. Photographic evidence is also helpful.
Boating is a wonderful recreation. You can make it an exciting adventure, or a serene and tranquil experience. Whatever you do, be sensible. Be considerate of other boaters, and follow the maritime laws. Carry a first aid kit. Be wary of “the other guy,” just as you do behind the wheel of a car. Be safe!