As a Columbia resident, you might flock to Lake Murray or one of our area’s other bodies of water and jump aboard a boat as a way to relax or cool off on a warm summer day. You have to be careful when you do so, as the dangers associated with boating accidents are endless. In fact, there may be more hazards associated with boating than there are with driving an automobile. Below, we’ll highlight the top five causes of boating accidents.
How Often Do Boating Accidents Occur?
There are all different types of water vessels, including giant cargo, aircraft carriers, and cargo ships. There are also smaller ones like recreational watercraft, which comprise everything from kayaks, inflatable boats, and paddleboats, to sailboats, pontoon boats, recreational boats, and yachts.
While adverse incidents involving large water vessels are sure to injure or kill more boaters at once than smaller ones, it’s likely that recreational boating accidents occur more often. This is likely to be the case because of the number of recreational watercrafts circulating and the minimal training requirements recreational boaters must meet to operate their vessels.
The U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) keeps track of annual recreational boating accidents in the United States. Their data from 2020 suggests that 5,265 recreational boating accidents occurred that year. At least 767 boaters died in these accidents. At least 3,191 of them resulted in injuries.
The U.S. Army also compiles civilian boating accident data. Their research shows that at least 80% of boating fatalities involve individuals utilizing water vessels less than 26 feet in length (the category to which a significant percentage of recreational boats belong).
5 Common Causes of Boating Accidents
The data described above detailed the common reasons for recreational boating accidents. The top five causes of boating accidents (in no particular order) were determined to be:
1. Boater Inattentiveness
If you think that texting and driving is a problem exclusive to just drivers, then think again. The BoatUS Foundation suggests that cellphones are a communication tool boaters use regularly, and boat crash investigators are increasingly finding that it’s a primary contributing factor for accidents, up there with speeding and failing to maintain a proper lookout.
Distractions like texting and boating are no different from drivers using their cellphones while operating their vehicles. It takes their mind off what they’re doing and their hands of the steering devices of their boats. Texting and boating stressors, such as boat vibrations, sun glare, waves, and winds, can all leave skippers vulnerable to developing fatigue known in the industry as “boater hypnosis,” which can up a boater’s risk of having a crash. A boater’s alcohol consumption only increases that risk.
2. Equipment Failure
Boaters should perform regular maintenance on their water vessels and thoroughly inspect them before every trip, just like a motorist would be expected to do with their automobile. Engine failure is often the most responsible for boat breakdowns. Some telltale signs it’s failing is if it:
● Its trim appears to have become stuck on the engine
● Doesn’t appear to be capable of shifting into gear
● Its prop vibrates, loses power, or sputters
Other mechanical problems that can cause a boat to break down, thus leaving it vulnerable to causing or becoming entangled in a crash, include:
● A failure to top off fluid levels
● Running out of gasoline
● A cracked drive belt
Maintaining inadequate pumping equipment aboard can also result in a boat’s mechanical failure.
Overloading a boat causes the distance between the watercraft’s main deck and waterline to narrow, increasing the risk of water coming aboard, causing sinking and subsequent capsizing.
Operating a boat in rough waters leaves it vulnerable to becoming overtaken by a wave and waterlogged. The waterlogging of the boat’s control panels may render the boat inoperable, leaving its occupants vulnerable to becoming stranded.
3. Excessive Speed
You’ve likely heard that “speed kills” when safety analysts describe someone driving a car. A car, for example, is only built to be able to absorb and distribute a certain amount of force at once necessary to keep its occupants safe. Water vessels operate similarly, with an added danger. Boaters are like motorcyclists in that they aren’t often surrounded by the outside shell of a vehicle to protect them from being ejected from their water vessels in a crash, upping their risk of suffering more catastrophic injuries if an accident occurs.
Speed is often a factor that contributes to the following accidents being particularly catastrophic:
● Two-boat collisions
● Ones involving a boater encountering a high wave or entering another boat’s wake
● Those where a boater strikes rocks, land, or submerged objects
4. Boater Inexperience
USCG data suggests that a lack of experience may contribute to many boating accidents. Their statistics show that most recreational boaters spend approximately 110 hours on the water each year.
If you couple this with the fact that only skippers aged 15 and under are required to secure a South Carolina Department of Natural Resources boater education certificate if they’re planning to operate a 15 horsepower (hp) or higher water vessel, training requirements are fairly minimal. This is why it doesn’t surprise our law firm team each time prospective clients reach out to us for representation after having suffered debilitating injuries at another inexperienced boater’s hands.
5. Inadequate Lookout
As a driver, you’ve likely been taught to regularly scan the road ahead of you for potential hazards that may enter your path, causing a collision. Boaters are expected to do something similar, which is referred to as maintaining a proper lookout, to avoid falling victim to one of the top five causes of boating accidents.
A skipper who is maintaining adequate lookout should:
● Be able to visualize the surrounding water from the port and starboard sides as well as its bow
● Not have anything obstructing their view of the boat’s helm
● Maintain visibility of potential hazards, including cordoned-off swimming areas, other boats, buoys or jetties, jet skiers, rock embankments, and sandbars
Visibility and lookout are synonymous. Maintaining the latter may be adversely impacted by poor visibility caused by inclement weather, distractions, intoxication, or a failure to use onboard lights.
How Attorneys and Insurance Adjusters Determine Liability
There are a few pieces of information that are critical in determining fault for any type of injury incident, including:
● An accident report
● Witness statements
● Photographs of the scene, damage, and injuries
Boater training or medical records and boat maintenance documentation may additionally be important in helping determine liability for boat crashes in Columbia. Preservation of evidence, such as any navigational maps that may have been aboard a water vessel showing that a skipper was familiar with potential collision hazards, can also be critical.
While South Carolina Code of Laws Section 15-3-535 gives individuals injured in boating accidents up to three years to file suit for their injuries, each day counts in terms of preserving evidence necessary to prove someone else’s negligence in your personal injury case.
This is why you should apprise yourself of your rights and steps you should take to preserve evidence as soon as possible after you get hurt in a boating accident. Contact The Solomon Law Group by filling out our website’s contact form to let us know more about your Columbia, SC accident and the lingering injuries you have resulting from it.