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Maritime / Boating Accident FAQs

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1. What is the first thing you must do after a boating accident?

If you have had a boating accident, you must first take care of the health and safety of the people involved. Ensure everyone is safely on the boat if it is still afloat, or another safe place if it is not, and the boat is out of harm’s way. Signal for help, if necessary, and seek medical attention for any injuries. A medical report will also be important evidence in any legal action.

Gather details at the scene of the accident. Obtain registration numbers and insurance details for those involved, and contact details for the boat operators, passengers, and witnesses. If possible, take photos and video of the scene.

Report the boating accident to the U.S. Coast Guard and the Delaware Fish & Wildlife Natural Resources Police. An accident report will be evidence for any action and is usually required by law.

Contact your insurance provider and an experienced boating accident attorney. Do not accept liability or discuss the accident with the other parties or insurers before speaking to your lawyer.

2. What action is required of an operator in a boating accident?

An operator involved in a boating accident must stop their vessel at the scene of the accident and offer assistance to anyone injured or in danger unless doing so would seriously endanger their own vessel or passengers. The operator is also required to notify the U.S. Coast Guard and Delaware Fish & Wildlife Natural Resources Police in accordance with state and federal laws.

3. What types of boating accidents must be reported?

Federal law and Delaware state law require that a boating accident must be reported to the U.S. Coast Guard and Delaware Fish & Wildlife Natural Resources Police if:

  • A person dies;
  • A person is injured and requires medical treatment beyond first-aid;
  • A person disappears from the boat under circumstances that indicate death or injury; or
  • Damage to the boat and other property totals more than $2,000 by federal law or $500 by Delaware state law, or there is a complete loss of the vessel.

Delaware law requires that the Delaware Fish & Wildlife Natural Resources Police is notified in writing of all reportable accidents within certain time limits but is also notified immediately if a person dies, disappears, or is injured requiring medical attention beyond first aid.

4. How soon should a boating accident be reported?

A boating accident must be reported to the U.S. Coast Guard within 10 days of the accident or death, or within 48 hours if a person:

  • Dies within 24 hours;
  • Is injured requiring medical treatment beyond first aid; or
  • Disappears from the vessel under circumstances that indicate death or injury.

A boating accident must be reported to the Delaware Fish & Wildlife Natural Resources Police immediately if a person dies, disappears, or is injured requiring medical attention beyond first aid. It must be reported in writing on forms provided by the Delaware Fish & Wildlife Natural Resources Police:

  • Immediately, if a person disappears or is injured requiring medical attention beyond first aid;
  • Within 24 hours, if a person dies; and
  • Within five days, if damage to the vessel and other property exceeds $500.

5. Will homeowners insurance cover a boating accident?

Homeowners insurance typically provides minimal coverage for a boating accident. Most policies will cover up to $1,000 damages to a boat, jet skis, or another recreational water vehicle, and generally cover damage by fire, wind or air, explosive hail, and vandalism.

6. How common are boating accident fatalities?

In 2019, the U.S. Coast Guard counted 4,168 recreational boating accidents in the U.S. that involved 613 deaths and 2,559 injuries. The fatality rate was 5.2 deaths per 100,000 registered recreational vessels. In Delaware, 13 accidents were counted with 1 fatality. Detailed statistics are available at the U.S. Coast Guard website.

7. What are the most common types of watercraft involved in a boating accident?

The top three types of watercraft involved in boating accidents in the U.S. according to 2019 statistics compiled by the U.S. Coast Guard, were open motorboats, personal watercraft, and cabin motorboats. More information is available on the U.S. Coast Guard website.

8. What are the most common injuries suffered in boating accidents?

Common injuries suffered in boating accidents are:

  • Drowning
  • Traumatic brain injuries
  • Spinal cord injuries
  • Lacerations and amputations
  • Whiplash
  • Electrocution
  • Concussions
  • Burns
  • Broken bones

9. What safety measures prevent wrongful death and injuries caused by a boating accident?

Do not drink and boat. Boating while intoxicated is a leading cause of boating accidents in the U.S.

Wear a lifejacket. All boat operators and passengers should wear a properly fitting USCG-approved lifejacket. The law requires that they are accessible for all passengers, and worn at all times by children.

Know the rules and follow them. Boating operators should take a boating safety course before getting out on the water, and follow the rules at all times. Inexperienced and inattentive boat operators cause accidents.

Stay within speed limits. Speeding is a primary contributing factor in boating accidents nationwide.

Practice boat propeller safety. Boat propellers can cause catastrophic injuries. Operators and passengers should be safe, and a propeller guard should be used if appropriate for the vessel.

Watch the weather. Always check the weather forecast before getting out on the water. Weather can be unpredictable in all seasons and can create a very dangerous situation for watercraft.

10. What are the most common causes of a boating accident?

The top five primary contributing factors in boating accidents in the U.S. in 2019 according to the U.S. Coast Guard were:

  • Operator inattention
  • Improper lookout
  • Operator inexperience
  • Excessive speed
  • Alcohol use

Detailed information is available at the U.S. Coast Guard website.

11. I was injured while on a charter boat. Can I file a compensation claim?

You may be entitled to compensation if you were injured while on a charter boat. Charter boats are boats that are rented either with a crew (bareboat) or without a crew (full service charter.)

In a full service charter, the owner, captain, and crew are responsible for making sure the vessel is in a safe and seaworthy condition, and safely operated, and could be liable for damages if it is not.

In a bareboat charter, the owner of the charter may be liable if the vessel is in an unsafe condition, and anyone operating the boat may be liable if their negligent behaviour caused injury or damage.

Employees on a charterboat are protected by the Jones Act, which entitles them to compensation in the event of a work-related injury.

12. I am from a different state or county. Do Delaware boating laws still protect me?

Yes. Delaware boating laws apply to, and protect, both residents and nonresidents using Delaware waterways. Nonresidents may bring a legal claim if they suffer damage in a Delaware boating accident. Residents and nonresidents must also comply with, and benefit from the protection of, Delaware boating laws, such as having a USCG-approved lifejacket and completing a boating safety education course before operating a motorized watercraft on Delaware waters.

13. Who can be held legally responsible for causing my damages in a boating accident?

A number of different people may be held legally responsible for damages in a boating accident, depending on the circumstances of the accident. If the injury or damage is caused by the unsafe condition of the boat, the owner, charter company, or manufacturer may be liable. If the injury or damage is a result of the negligence of another person such as the operator of the boat, another passenger, or another boat operator, they may be liable. An experienced lawyer can advise you who may be legally responsible in your individual case, and help you bring a claim against the correct parties.

14. The boater’s insurance company offered me a settlement, should I accept it?

You should not accept any offer of settlement after a boating accident without first getting legal advice from a lawyer familiar with this area of the law. Insurance companies typically make low settlement offers to try to reduce their losses. Victims are often unaware of the losses, both past and future, that the law entitles them to be recovered. Your lawyer can ensure that you get a settlement that takes into account all of your losses as a result of a boating accident.

15. What is the number one cause of death in boating?

Drowning is the number one cause of death in boating in the U.S.A., and was identified as the cause of death in 79% of fatal boating accidents in 2019 (where cause of death was known.)

16. What is a maritime injury?

A maritime injury can mean any injury that happens on the water, whether in a personal watercraft, a commercial vessel, or even on an oil rig. It can also refer to maritime-related accidents on shore such as at a port or harbor.

17. What kinds of injury or damage can I sue for after a boating accident?

A victim in a boating accident may be legally entitled to compensation for any injury or damage caused by someone’s else’s negligence, including:

  • Past and future medical bills
  • Long-term care
  • Physical therapy
  • Medication
  • Lost wages
  • Lost earning capacity
  • Pain and suffering
  • Emotional distress
  • Physical impairment
  • Disfigurement
  • Property damage

18. I was in a boating accident while working - who sues the at-fault boat operator?

The Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Act and the Jones Act are federal laws that provide a type of workers’ compensation to maritime workers. If you are involved in an accident while working on the water, you may be entitled to compensation under these laws rather than by bringing a lawsuit. In many instances, your employer or their insurance company will pursue the claim against the at-fault boat operator but it will depend on the individual circumstances of your case. This is a complex scenario which requires the advice of an experienced lawyer to ensure that the proper parties are held accountable for their fault, and that you get all the compensation that you need and deserve.

19. Is suing for injuries in a boating accident the same as in a car accident?

A claim for injuries in a boating accident is a personal injury claim, and is very similar to a claim for injuries in a car accident. Whether in a car or a boat, the victim must prove that their injuries were caused by the negligence of another person in order to have a successful personal injury claim. As in a car accident case, a boating accident victim is entitled to compensation for medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering caused by the defendant’s negligence.

There are, however, differences in who might be legally liable and how negligence is proven in car and boating accidents. Boating accidents can involve charter companies, hired crew, and other parties which make the case more complex. Different authorities are involved when an accident happens. The laws on Delaware waterways are very different to those on the road, and often involve state and federal regulations. It is important to understand the applicable laws and be familiar with the agencies involved to be successful in a boating accident claim.

20. How long do I have to sue for injuries in a boating accident?

A claim for injuries in a boating accident in Delaware should be brought within the statute of limitations period for a personal injury claim, which is 2 years from the date of the injury or the time the victim knew (or should have known) that the injury was caused by the defendant’s negligence. A wrongful death claim must be brought within 2 years of the date of death.

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