The state of Michigan is surrounded by four Great Lakes. These Great Lakes constitute 90% of the United States fresh surface water. Because of this, boating is one of the most popular outdoor hobbies in the United States and although it is widely considered a fun and relaxing sport, recreational boating can result in disastrous injuries and even death.
In fact, boating accidents in the United States resulted in 3,331 injuries and 709 deaths in the past years. Startlingly, America’s waterways are second only to highways in terms of the number of accidental deaths occurring on them. However, boaters, jet skiers, and others on our waterways and lakes have legal duties to follow boating safety rules, just as drivers do on our roads and highways.
Boat accidents and injuries often occur due to reckless behavior, negligent use of a boat, and even because a boat operator was intoxicated and caused an accident. The boat driver must not only be concerned about other boats, but others enjoying the water, like skiers and swimmers. If you or a loved one was injured in a boating incident, a Michigan boat accident lawyer could help to investigate the circumstances of a wreck, gather evidence of negligence, and guide you through the legal process to seek compensation.
Types of Boating Crashes in Michigan
Boating accidents are often severe. The following is a list of some of the most common types of reportable crashes:
- Grounding, capsizing, sinking, flooding, or swamping
- Falls in or overboard a vessel
- Persons ejected from a vessel
- Fire or explosions that occur while underway and while anchored, moored or docked if the fire resulted from the vessel or vessel equipment
- Water-skiing or other mishap involving a towable device
- Collision with another vessel or object
- Striking a submerged object
- A person struck by a vessel, propeller, propulsion unit, or steering machinery
- Carbon monoxide exposure
- Electrocution due to stray current related to a vessel
- Falls off an anchored vessel
- Casualties where natural causes served as a contributing factor in the death of an individual, but the determined cause of death was drowning
- Death from natural phenomena, such as interaction with marine life and interaction with nature
Unfortunately, these or other circumstances may lead to severe injuries or even death. However, there are certain measures a person can take after a wreck, including contacting a compassionate Michigan boat accident lawyer to discuss their legal options.
What to do After a Wreck
Even the most careful boater cannot control the actions of others on the water. After an accident happens, there are a number of steps to take. These include:
- Determine if anyone has been thrown overboard. Throw them a life preserver, life jacket, or another personal flotation device. Most people are not strong enough swimmers to save a drowning person by jumping in the water to get them. Even throwing a rope or anything else the person can grab onto is better
- Determine if anyone needs first aid or medical attention. Apply first aid as circumstances permit
- Render any aid to any other vessel involved if you are able
- Once everyone is safely onboard and any medical attention has been provided, exchange information with the other vessel. Ask for and provide name, address, and telephone number of each person on board and any other witnesses; name and registration number of the boat; insurance company; and the insurance policy number
- Take photographs of any damage to the boat and any visible injuries to a person
- File a boating accident report with the Coast Guard and any appropriate state or local agency
How to File a Crash Report
When a boating accident has occurred, the United States Coast Guard requires operators of all watercraft defined as vessels to make an official report. The Coast Guard defines the term “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.
Federal law (33 CFR Part 173; Subpart C — Casualty and Accident Reporting) requires that anyone involved in a crash to file a report with the nearest state boating authority, which must be done within 48 hours of the occurrence of any of the following types of incidents:
- A fatality that occurs within 24 hours of the accident
- A person’s injury that requires medical attention beyond first aid
- Damage to the vessel or in the vessel’s total loss
- A person’s disappearance from a vessel under circumstances that point to death or injury
The reporting authority can be the state where the accident occurred, the state in which the vessel was numbered, or, if the vessel does not have a number, the state where the vehicle was mostly used. If the operator is deceased or cannot make the report because of injuries, then the vessel’s owner must do so. For less serious incidents, a report must be made within ten days of an occurrence if there is damage to the property or vessel.
Determining Liability in a Boat Collision
To determine liability for a boat wreck, it must be demonstrated that an individual did not conduct themselves as a reasonable person would in a similar situation. This includes following safety rules, including providing an adequate amount of life vests on board and being mindful of the safety of their passengers and others on the water. When these duties are disregarded, an individual could be deemed negligent. Common forms of negligence include:
- Operator inattention
- Operator inexperience
- Improper lookout
- Excessive speed
- Alcohol use
- Machinery failure
- Drug use
- Sharp turn
- Restricted vision
- Improper loading
- Improper anchoring
Boating under the influence (BUI) is just as dangerous as driving under the influence (DUI), because many boaters have less experience maneuvering a boat than a car. Some of the most common collisions occur because of alcohol consumption, which severely impairs judgment, reactions, and coordination of a driver. According to the U.S. Coast Guard, alcohol is in fact the leading cause of fatal wrecks. In fact, boating while intoxicated is listed as the cause of 16% of wrongful death waterway accidents.
Victims who survive from these crashes can still suffer serious, even catastrophic injuries. In fact, non-fatal drowning injuries can cause severe brain damage that may result in long-term disabilities such as memory problems, learning disabilities, and permanent loss of basic functioning. However, for a successful claim, an injured plaintiff must prove that a boater behaved in these or other negligent ways and, therefore, caused a crash. A skillful Michigan attorney could help the victim of a boat accident to establish and prove negligence for a claim.
Boat Crash Prevention Tips
When operating a recreational vessel, steps can be taken to prevent accidents or minimize potential injuries if an incident arises. The most important precaution an individual can take when on a boat, whether or not they are the operator or passenger, is to always wear a life jacket. Furthermore:
- Always dress for possible immersion
- Be aware that cold weather is more dangerous than warm weather. There are fewer boaters and patrols to rescue those in distress, and the water is much colder
- Do not drink alcohol while on the water
- When in large bodies of water, take advantage of available distress-alerting and position-indicating technologies
- The U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary offers boating safety courses, which are imperative for a boat owner to take. These classes are also available on CD
- Know the maximum capacity of the vessel and resist overloading it with passengers or gear
- Adults do not have to wear the PFDs while on board, but must be able to access them easily. It is imperative that all children wear life jackets while on board, but each state defines what the age limits are for requiring life jackets. And, if you are operating a vessel 16 feet or longer, you must have a throwable PFD
- Have a fire extinguisher on board (mostly applies to larger boats)
- Get a free vessel safety check
- Watch for potential threats at a marina such as loose boards, uncoiled rope, leaky hoses, and faulty gas pumps
- Wear non-slip shoes and encourage your passengers to do the same
Life Vest Safety Requirements
There are life vest-specific requirements for each boater in Michigan. The U.S. Coast Guard has set these requirements as follows:
- Children less than 6 years of age must wear a Type I or Type II Personal Floatation Device (PFD) when riding in the open deck area of a boat
- Each person 12 years of age or older operating, riding on or being towed behind a personal watercraft must wear a Type I, Type II or Type III PFD
- Vessels less than 16 feet must be equipped with one Type I, II, III or IV PFD for each person on board
- All vessels less than 16 feet, used on the Great Lakes or connecting waterways, to carry one approved Type I, II, or III devices for each person on board
- Vessels 16 feet and longer, in addition to the Type I, II, or III for each person on board must carry one type IV, excluding canoes and kayaks
Call a Michigan Boat Accident Attorney to Discuss Taking Legal Action
If you or a loved one was injured in a boating wreck or collision, you may be traumatized and stuck with the inability to work as you recover. However, when the negligence of another boater or passenger caused an accident, you have legal rights and may benefit from speaking with a Michigan boat accident lawyer.
A successful claim for compensation may include recovery for medical expenses, lost wages, pain and suffering, and other losses. To discuss a claim today, call an attorney at Buckfire & Buckfire, P.C.
- 29000 Inkster Road
Southfield, MI 48034
- Phone: (248) 595-7544
- 19 Clifford St.
Suite 805 Merchants Row
Detroit, MI 48226
- Phone: (313) 992-8281
- 1001 Woodward Ave.
Detroit, MI 48226
- Phone: (313) 777-8482
- 343 S. Main Street
Ann Arbor, MI 48104
- Phone: (734) 888-3003
- 51424 Van Dyke Ave
Shelby Township, MI 48316
- Phone: (586) 250-2626