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Maritime / Boating Accident FAQs

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March 18, 2021

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.

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