Boating accidents are unfortunately common in Delaware, particularly in the summer season when visitors come from across the state and the country to enjoy our waterways. In 2021, there were 17 reported boating accidents in Delaware, involving 28 vessels, 5 injuries, and 2 fatalities.
When you are involved in a boating accident, there are certain steps that you should take to protect yourself and other people. There are also steps that you must take to comply with state and federal laws. One such step is reporting the accident to state and federal authorities. In Delaware, the state authority that deals with boating accidents is the Delaware Fish & Wildlife Natural Resources Police, within the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control Division of Fish and Wildlife. The relevant federal authority is the United States Coast Guard. These authorities regulate how and when you must report a boating accident to the authorities, and it is important to understand these regulations, and any other obligations, before getting out on the water in Delaware.
If you have been involved in a boating accident in Delaware, you may be legally required to report the accident. The details in your report could be used in the calculation, or rejection, of any award or settlement for damages as a result of the accident therefore it is important to get the advice of a boating accident lawyer to ensure that your rights are protected. At Morris James, we have been handling boating accidents for decades. Contact one of our experienced team online, at one of our local Delaware offices, or by calling 302.655.2599 for a free consultation.
Delaware State Accident Reporting Requirements
The Delaware state regulations for reporting a boating accident are very specific about who should report an accident, how, what, and when:
Delaware law requires each vessel owner and operator involved in a boating accident to report the accident. When written reports are required, each person must file a separate report.
Some accidents must be reported by phone and some in writing to the Delaware Fish & Wildlife Natural Resources Police, depending on the circumstances of the accident (see below.)
To report a boating accident immediately, you must call the Delaware Fish & Wildlife Natural Resources Police 24-hour dispatch line at 800-523-3336.
If a boating accident must be reported in writing, each vessel owner and operator should file a separate Recreational Boating Accident Self Report Form with:
Delaware Fish & Wildlife Natural Resources Police
89 Kings Highway
Dover, Delaware 19901
Attention: Office of Boating Safety and Education.
The Recreational Boating Accident Self Report Form is a comprehensive six-page report of the accident which is completed by a vessel owner or operator, which is different to the situation in a motor vehicle accident when the police typically complete and file the report of the accident. The form requires detailed information, including:
- Description of the accident
- Vessel owners, operators, and passengers
- Vessel identification, condition, and recent safety inspections
- Any injuries to passengers and other people
- Damage to vessels and other property
- Weather conditions
- Water conditions
- Qualifications and experience of the boat operator
- Details of safety precautions such as lifejackets
- Activities of the operator and passengers at the time of the accident
This accident report may be used as evidence in a legal or insurance claim related to the accident, therefore every detail is important. It is important to get the advice of a boating accident attorney when completing the report.
The deadline for reporting a boating accident to the Delaware Fish & Wildlife Natural Resources Police depends on the injuries and damage caused by the accident:
If someone is injured in the boating accident requiring medical attention beyond first aid, the vessel operator must report the accident immediately both by calling the Delaware Fish & Wildlife Natural Resources Police on 800.523.3336, and by filing a Recreational Boating Accident Self Report Form.
If someone disappears in the boating accident, the accident must be reported by phone and in writing immediately by calling the Delaware Fish & Wildlife Natural Resources Police on 800.523.3336, and by filing a Recreational Boating Accident Self Report Form.
If a person dies in the accident, the accident must be reported immediately by calling Delaware Fish & Wildlife Natural Resources Police 24-hour dispatch line at 800.523.3336, and in writing within 24 hours by filing a Recreational Boating Accident Self Report Form.
If there is damage worth more than $500 in the accident to a vessel or other property, the accident must be reported in writing only within 5 days on a Recreational Boating Accident Self Report Form.
A failure to report a boating accident is a Class D environmental violation in Delaware, which can mean a fine of $50 - $100 dollars (plus costs of prosecution and court costs) for a vessel owner or operator.
This penalty is minimal compared to other potential costs of a boating accident. You may be entitled to, or liable for, compensation for injuries and damage caused by a boating accident. It is important to speak to a reputable lawyer about your legal rights and protections if you have been involved in an accident.
Federal Boating Accident Reporting Requirements
Although there are separate federal reporting requirements for boating accidents, if you comply with the Delaware reporting requirements, you will also be in compliance with the federal regulations. The Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control sends accident report data to the United States Coast Guard.
The federal requirements are:
If someone is injured in the accident, requiring medical treatment beyond first aid, the accident must be reported within 48 hours to the state authority on a USCG Recreational Boating Accident Report. In Delaware, filing the Delaware Recreational Boating Accident Self Report Form with the Delaware Fish & Wildlife Natural Resources Police will meet this requirement.
If someone disappears from the vessel under circumstances that indicate death or injury, the accident must be reported to the state authority in writing within 48 hours. Again, the filing of a Delaware Recreational Boating Accident Self Report Form with the Delaware Fish & Wildlife Natural Resources Police will meet this requirement.
If someone dies within 24 hours of the accident as a result of injuries sustained in the accident, the accident must be reported to the state authority in writing within 48 hours. Complying with the Delaware requirement to file a Report Form immediately will meet this requirement.
If there is damage to vessels and other property totaling at least $2,000 or the boat is destroyed, the accident must be reported in writing within 10 days of the accident, if earlier reporting is not required. As Delaware requires notification of damage of at least $500 within 5 days of the accident, this federal requirement will be met by filing the Delaware Report Form on time.
Other Obligations in a Boating Accident
Boating safety course. Delaware law requires anyone born on or after January 1, 1978 to take and pass a boating safety course before operating a motorized boat, including personal watercraft, on Delaware waters. You will be required to provide details of this course when you file a report of a boating accident.
Stop. You are legally required to stop your vessel at the scene of a boating accident and offer assistance to anyone injured or in danger, unless it would seriously endanger your vessel or passengers. Never flee the scene of a boating accident.
Notify your insurer. You may be required under the terms of your boating insurance policy to notify your insurance provider about an accident even if you do not have to report it by law. Be aware of the provisions of your insurance policy, and if you notify your provider about a boating accident, do not make any statements of liability. You should always speak to your attorney before discussing the accident with representatives of an insurance company.
Other steps. Being in a boating accident is overwhelming. It can be difficult to remember what to do to protect yourself and your passengers at the time of the accident and in the ensuing days and weeks. Our 7 Steps to Take After a Boating or Jet Ski Accident article is a helpful summary, but for guidance tailored to you and your circumstances, contact an experienced boating accident attorney like the attorneys at Morris James. An attorney can advise you on your legal obligations and also help you to get compensation for any injuries or losses as a result of the boating accident.
At Morris James, our attorneys have been standing up for victims since we opened our doors in 1932. If you have other questions about boating accidents, you may find answers in our Boating and Jet Ski Accident FAQs, or you can contact us online, in one of our local Delaware offices, or call us at 302.655.2599 to learn more.