In 2016, the Coast Guard recorded 4,463 boating accidents, and this number was up by 7.3 percent from 2015’s figure.
These statistics show that water accidents are common, and the last thing any boater wants is getting involved in one. But since things tend to be quite unpredictable, it helps to get prepared for what might happen when you’re out there.
Knowing what to right after a boating accident helps to prevent further damage, injury, and helps you to collect essential information.
In this post, we’ll help you understand what to do if you’re an accident victim.
Read on to learn more.
1. Safety Comes First
It’s normal to be tense, especially when you have never been in any boating crash. In such a situations, your emotions can be high and wild.
It’s best to stay calm and ensure your boat engine is not running. Everyone in the boat must wear a life jacket or personal flotation device (PFD). Check to find out if there are any injuries and attend to the to the best of your ability. Also, help the other boat and passengers as well.
If your boat is leaking or flooding, try to fix the leak or use manual bilge pumps or bailers to try to keep the craft afloat. You can also turn on the bilge pumping system if your boat is equipped with one.
Use your VHF radio or visual signals to summon help. When calling for help, be sure to provide all the relevant details, including your location and craft.
If possible, try to preserve the scene of the accident until authorities arrive.
2. Get Medical Help
In some cases, injuries may not be apparent after the accident. You and other victims might need to seek medical checkup after the authorities record everything. The Coast Guard will determine which cases need immediate medical care.
However, for those with severe pain and visible injuries, you’ll need to take them to the nearest hospital. Medical attention is especially important for those who suffered a concussion or back injury. If your vessel is still in good condition, you can head to the shore to get medical help.
Also, it’s illegal for you to leave the scene if there other victims that need medical help. If one of the boats is damaged, the other boat operator must offer help to its occupants.
3. Gather Information
When you’re certain that everyone is okay and out of danger, you’ll need to gather essential information from witnesses and those who were in the boat.
Note down the telephone numbers, addresses, and names of the boat operators and the passengers of both boats. Also, get the details of eyewitnesses who are willing to come out and share their account of the accident.
Don’t forget to write down the details of the boats. This includes their registration or identification numbers, brand, and model. Also, add the insurance company names and policy numbers of the victims of the accident.
If you have a camera or phone with a camera, be sure to take the photos of the boats and the location of the accident. These details are important when you’re trying to prove the case.
4. Call Your Boat Insurer
Even if the other boat operator was at fault, it’s important to let your insurer know that your craft was involved in an accident. Some people may opt to a private arrangement, which might fail to work in some cases. When it does, it complicates the whole case.
Timely reporting of the accident to your insurance company also helps to reinforce the validity of the case. Some companies might be reluctant to process your case if you report the accident late.
Your insurance company will also need to know the details of the accident. In some cases, they can help you to pursue the case on your behalf if the other boat operator was at fault.
5. Call Maritime Police
When the accident occurs, ensure to call the U.S. Coast Guard or other maritime police. They will provide you an accident report to help shed light on how the accident occurred. You’ll also need this report when reporting the case to the authorities and when filing an insurance claim.
Make sure to provide the police with all the vital details regarding the case. Do not speculate about anything or give any unnecessary information. Keep in mind that your alibi must be same to what you tell your lawyer and insurer.
Even if you believe you were at fault, do not offer any apologies or accept responsibility for the boating accident. Instead, allow the police to consider all the facts when the determining who caused the crash. You don’t want to do anything that will affect your claim or jeopardize the investigation.
6. Stay at the Scene
Even if you were not at fault, don’t leave the boating accident location before the police or Coast Guard arrives. You can only leave if you’re severely injured and need medical attention.
Staying at the scene helps to improve the chances of getting the compensation you want. Typically, it eliminates possible complications that might delay your case. If you’re at fault, leaving the scene could lead to a jail term, fine or a revoked license.
The authorities will need your information when they arrive. So, you must be there to provide your name, address, registration number, and insurance number. Plus, you’ll need to narrate your own account of the accident to help with the investigation.
7. Report to the Authority
According to the federal law (33 CFR 173.55), the boat operator must submit a casualty or accident report to the relevant authority. This is necessary for any occurrence that involves the boat or any of its equipment.
It’s important to know the individual requirements for reporting a boating accident. Some states may have their own unique criterion for doing this. In general, the boat operator must report an accident when:
- There is death
- A person is severely injured and requires medical attention
- A person disappears following the accident
- There the cost of the boat damage is more than $2,000, or the vessel is completely lost
The boat operator is usually responsible for reporting the accident unless he or she is unable to do so. In such a case, the owner would then be liable for reporting it.
The report must be made within 48 hours if a person is severely injured, killed or missing. For boat damage, you have up to 10 days to file your report.
8. Get Legal Support
Over 95 percent of personal injury cases are usually settled pre-trial. If the other boat operator was at fault, some insurance companies might want to rush the case and give you compensation. In some cases, this might not work for you.
You’ll need to work with an boat accident attorney to assess the damage and determine the best possible compensation amount. It helps to have someone who understands both state and international maritime laws by your side.
It will be helpful if your lawyer is present at the scene of the accident. Also, it’s advisable not to sign any paperwork in the absence of your lawyer or insurance agent. Your lawyer will help you get compensation for your losses, such as lost wages, pain and suffering, boat damages, and medical bills.
An attorney will also help you file the claim within your state’s statute of limitations. He or she will protect your rights and obtain and secure any useful evidence for the case.
9. File An Insurance Claim
After a boating accident, you need to file an insurance claim. Ensure you have all the reports and documents to give your insurer.
If the other boater was negligent or careless, you could take a legal action for compensation. Find out if the owner of the other boat has any insurance. This will help to fund any judgment or settlement you have against the boat at fault. However, if the person has no insurance or assets, he or she may not be able to cover your damages.
However, if the individual has no insurance or assets, he or she may not be able to cover your damages. You will need to work with your attorney to understand your options and approach.
In some cases, your insurance company will need to cover the damages and loss. Depending on your insurance package, you can get a full replacement of fishing equipment and other carry-on items.
For a damaged boat, you can get a new one or the amount you spent on buying the vessel. If you repair the vessel, the insurance company will compensate you for the repair cost. However, your insurer will need to assess the boat before you make any repairs.
10. Keep Copies of the Accident Files
After the police have processed your case, you need to obtain and keep all the files related to the accident. Some of the things you need to keep include:
- Police accident report
- Contact information of all those involved
- Information about your claim adjuster
- Insurance claim number
- Details of all witnesses
- Receipts of all expenses
If you had rented the boat, you also need to have a copy of the rental receipt. You’ll need these details as you pursue a legal action for compensation. They provide evidence that backs up everything that you claim or state during the case.
Having these copies also makes it convenient for your boating accident lawyer to argue based on concrete evidence.
Working with An Accident Attorney
Personal injury claims and liability after a boating accident can be quite complicated to handle.
An accident is usually handled depending on how it occurred. Some of the things that can lead to an accident include:
- Negligence and carelessness of a boat operator
- Collison with another boat
- Hitting a wave
- Collision with a rock or submerged object
- Boating while under the influence of alcohol
Consulting a lawyer will help you to understand how each of these situations is handled. But first, you must find a lawyer who specializes in maritime law and has adequate experience in similar cases. Talk to several lawyers and seek referrals before choosing one.
When the accident occurs, your lawyer can help you to take legal action against:
- The operator of the vessel you were on
- The operator of the boat that was at fault
- The boat or equipment manufacturer if there was any defect that led to the accident
Be sure to provide your attorney all the essential details before you take a legal action. You should also not talk to other involved parties about the accident without your lawyer’s permission or knowledge.
Boating Accident – The Takeaway
Like road accidents, an accident on water is unpredictable and can happen anytime. It can occur due to a collision, distraction, flooding, grounding, or skier mishap.
When it happens, it helps to know the important things to do to ensure safety and get compensated for your losses.