What is a boating accident, exactly?

Boating accidents seem pretty self-explanatory: they are accidents that happen on or with a boat. However, it covers a wide variety of different accidents and vessels, from sailboats to speedboats to personal watercraft (jet skis) to even hovercraft. The most common kinds of accidents include either hitting another vessel or hitting an obstacle, like a reef or a dock.

When a wreck happens on a lake or a river, it will likely be covered by local and state laws. However, if your boating accident happens out at sea, it will fall under maritime law. This is a highly complex field of federal law. The reason maritime law applies is because the coastal waters belong to the United States as a whole, not to individual states.

If a boating accident meets certain criteria, it must be reported to the Coast Guard. These criteria include:

  • If a life is lost
  • If there is substantial injury requiring treatment beyond first aid
  • If a person is missing, and there is reason to believe they were injured or killed
  • There is a total loss of a vessel
  • Total damage caused in the accident equals at least $2,000

Only one of these requirements must be met before a report must be filed.

Boating accidents happen for many reasons, but the most common is also the most avoidable: alcohol. In 2014, alcohol use caused 277 accidents, 248 injuries and 108 deaths nationwide. Florida law dictates that it is illegal to operate a water vessel with a blood alcohol content of 0.08 percent or more. However, operating a boat with any alcohol in your system can be a fatal mistake.