What do I do if I get in a boating accident?

Boating accidents can ruin what was supposed to be a great weekend with family and friends — and can do much more damage. Whether you run into another boat, hit a dock, capsize or someone falls overboard, there are a few things you should do in every situation. First of all, it’s imperative you make sure everyone is okay and accounted for. If someone has fallen overboard, slow the boat down and throw a personal floatation device (i.e. a lifejacket) if they aren’t already wearing one. You can also throw a lifesaver or other floating tool to them to pull them back to the boat. Slowly turn the boat around so you are next to them, then stop the engine until they are back on board.

If your boat capsizes or sinks, stay with the boat if possible. It’s much easier to see a ship in danger than to see people floating in the water. If you made the mistake of not wearing a life vest, try to find one quickly and either put it on or hold on to it. If you can’t, find anything that floats, like a cooler, and hold on to that until rescue arrives.

Once everyone is accounted for and first aid is administered as needed, it’s time to deal with the tedious side of things. In Florida, you must report the accident if it meets at least one of these five criteria:

  • There is a total loss of a vessel
  • There is a fatality
  • A person needs medical attention that goes beyond simple first aid
  • A person disappears and it seems they were egregiously injured or killed
  • At least $2,000 worth of total damage is done to property, including any vessel involved

If you do get into an accident with another vessel, you will need to exchange information with the other operator. This includes insurance information, names, addresses, phone numbers and Hull ID numbers. Take photos of any and all damage, as well as an inventory of any items lost. You will need to call your insurance agency and follow their directions. But, don’t sign any kind of settlement agreement until you speak to your attorney.