Boating Accident Lawyer
North and South Carolina are full of beautiful, big lakes that beg for a day out on the water. Add in the beautiful shores and white peaks of Myrtle Beach and the rest of the states’ shorelines, and it’s easy to see why boating is so popular in the Carolinas. Unfortunately, its popularity means boating accidents are much more common than they should be.
Though boats are used for pleasure and work, pleasure boating is the most common cause of accidents. Most often, these accidents happen because someone is acting negligently. A vessel operator may get behind the wheel of the boat when they’re inebriated, or they may ignore other boats and obstacles in the water.
No matter the reason, if you are involved in a boating accident in the Carolinas, there’s a good chance you’ll suffer severe — and sometimes life-threatening — injuries. If another person is responsible for these injuries, you have legal options. North and South Carolina law lays out a clear path for recovering compensation after injuries caused by a boating accident.
At Auger & Auger Accident and Injury Lawyers, our boating accident attorneys can help you get the total compensation you deserve. We have been assisting members of the Carolina community for over 26 years. Call us at (855) 969-5671 or contact us online today for a free, no-obligation consultation.
Boating Accident Statistics to Consider
According to the United States Coast Guard, there were 4,291 accidents in 2017 across the country. These accidents resulted in 658 deaths and 2,629 injuries. Of these accidents, the most common known cause of death was drowning. Alcohol was a contributing factor in about a fifth of all fatal boating accidents. In addition, over 80% of operators involved in fatal accidents did not have proper training.
In North Carolina, there were 117 boating accidents in 2017. Fifteen of those wrecks were fatal and resulted in 71 non-fatal injuries. The most common type of accident was collisions with a recreational vessel (32 accidents), followed by collisions with a fixed object (21 accidents). Drowning was the most common cause of death (13 deaths).
South Carolina had similar statistics, especially regarding causes of accidents and fatalities. There were 151 boating accidents in 2017, resulting in 85 injuries and 13 fatalities. Most of those were collisions with recreational vessels (54 accidents), followed by collisions with a fixed object (28 accidents). Drowning was the most common cause of death in boating accidents (9 fatalities).
These statistics are solely regarding recreational vessels. Recreational boats include:
- Kayaks, canoes, and paddleboards
- Cabin cruisers
- Center console roundabouts
- Inflatable boats, including semi-rigid boats
- Pontoon boats
- Personal watercrafts like jet skis
- Other similar vessels
The Legal Process After a Boating Accident in the Carolinas
Boating accidents fall under both federal and state laws. If the accident happens at sea instead of on a lake or river, maritime law is enacted instead of state law. Under federal law, all accidents that result in death, disappearance, injury that requires treatment beyond first aid, property damage above $2,000, or a destroyed boat must be reported to state authorities.
This report must be made within 48 hours after a fatal accident or within ten days for other situations. In South Carolina, you must report the accident to the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources if any of the above criteria apply.
North Carolina specifically requires you to report the accident to the NC Wildlife Resources Commission if there is:
- A loss of life
- An injury requiring medical treatment
- A person who is unconscious or left disabled for 24 hours
- Property damage, including damage to the boat, that exceeds $2,000
- A person that disappears under circumstances that indicate the person is injured or killed
After you have made your report, speak to a boating accident attorney. Injuries caused by someone else’s actions or negligence may be compensable under North and South Carolina law. In order to successfully seek compensation, you need to prove that the person responsible for your injuries either acted willfully, or they acted negligently. Negligence is a legal standard that must be met by proving:
1. There was a duty of care established
People who operate boats have a duty of care to take reasonable action to avoid injuring their passengers, those in the water, and people on other vessels. For instance, if they see a large wave coming, they have an obligation to avoid it if at all possible. Similarly, boaters have an obligation to avoid colliding with other vessels.
2. That duty of care was breached
Not every boating accident is caused by negligence. For instance, if a boat operator hits an underwater object that isn’t noted on current navigational or nautical charts, they may not be held liable for injuries since this was an unforeseeable circumstance. However, if the accident is caused by a foreseeable circumstance, the boat operator is said to have breached their duty of care.
3. Your injury was caused by the breach of duty of care
Injuries aren’t always directly related to the breach of duty of care. For instance, if you fall out of the boat because you weren’t seated properly, the boat operator may not be liable. In another example, if a person dies because they were thrown overboard in an accident, but they weren’t wearing a life jacket that was provided on the boat, the vessel operator may only be partially liable.
This is important because in North Carolina, contributory negligence laws mean if you are even a little bit to blame for your injuries, you can’t recover compensation. In South Carolina, you can recover compensation if you are less than 50% at fault for your injuries. However, the amount you recover is lessened by the amount you are at fault.
4. You suffered real damages
This is typically the easiest element to prove. If you have medical bills, property repair invoices, receipts for out-of-pocket expenses, and other evidence that can show you suffered actual monetary damages.
When Do Most Boating Accidents Happen?
Boating accidents are more common in the summer months when many people are out on the water – more boats lead to more risk of a collision. We also see an increase in these incidents around holidays like the Fourth of July, Memorial Day, Labor Day, and New Year’s. These are days when people are not only celebrating on the water but may be drinking more as well – attempting to steer a boat while intoxicated can be a major risk factor for a boating crash. Although accidents are more common at these times, a boating collision can occur at any time, and you should always observe safe boating practices:
- Have life jackets for all people riding on the boat, as well as a throwable personal floatation device and sound-producing items like whistles or air horns
- Keep visual distress signals on hand and make sure they’re not more than three years old
- Have fire extinguishers on board as well as backfire flame control – it’s easy to overlook the possibility of a fire in the middle of a body of water, but it can happen
- Gasoline-powered boats should have appropriate ventilation
- Make sure navigation lights are all working and replace any that aren’t before going out
You should also consider taking a boater education course and investing in an Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB).
What Causes Boating Accidents and How Can You Prevent Them?
There are many contributing factors to collisions on the water, and some incidents may have multiple contributions. Determining the exact reasons after an accident can take time as investigators look into what happened. However, here are some common scenarios:
- Operator inexperience. This is why it’s recommended that you take boating education courses from a professional before driving a boat on your own. Sometimes we see situations where a boat operator spontaneously decides to teach a friend or relative to drive while on the water. Unfortunately, it’s easy to miss things while teaching on the fly. Accidents may also happen when the person teaching decides to do something else for a minute because the new driver has been doing fine so far. New operators should be supervised by an experienced boat driver at all times.
- Operator distraction. Even experienced boaters can make mistakes when their mind or eyes are elsewhere. The driver needs to keep track of speed, direction, winds, weather, and numerous other factors when operating a boat. If you need to check your phone, take a snack break, check supplies, or do other tasks, get another qualified boat operator to take the wheel for a little while.
- Lookout errors. Because it’s hard to watch everything at once, boat drivers are encouraged to have a lookout – someone who keeps an eye out for hazardous debris or other issues in the water. They should warn you of any other boats or objects you could crash into or other difficulties you may have missed.
- Alcohol use. In 2020, there were 22 alcohol-related boat accidents, 10 deaths, and 18 injuries in North Carolina. South Carolina saw 6 alcohol-related accidents, 3 deaths, and 4 injuries in the same year. Nationwide, alcohol accounts for about 19 percent of total boating fatalities. If you were going to a party at someone’s house, you and your friends would arrange for a designated driver or rideshare beforehand. You should do the same if you’re planning to drink while on the water – choose someone to stay sober and handle the driving if others are too inebriated.
- Again this is similar to car accidents – the faster you’re going, the more likely you are to have an accident or be injured if you do have one. Slow down on the water. The North Carolina Vessel Operator’s Guide notes that speeds that are “excessive under the circumstances” or endanger people or property are considered reckless driving. Local speed limits may also apply to certain waterways.
- Failing to adequately maintain the boat. Sometimes boat accidents aren’t about what the owner/operator did, but what they didn’t Equipment or mechanical failures may contribute to accidents, and failing to keep safety items in good working condition can increase the risk of injury or death in an accident. Keep up with boat maintenance and have it checked by a mechanic regularly. Replace any old or defective safety equipment before taking the boat out again.
- Failing to follow navigational rules. As with the “rules of the road” for land traffic, these are in place to keep everyone safer on the water. Be sure to read and understand them – your boater education course will help with this.
- It can change quickly – one minute, it’s a beautiful, sunny day. The next minute, the skies are darkening, and the wind is picking up. Keeping an eye on forecasts can help you avoid situations where this happens. If the weather does change unexpectedly, it’s a good idea to head back to shore at a safe speed. Sometimes people have accidents after deciding that their boat can handle “riding out” a storm or that it would be easier to ride through it. Never ignore any weather alerts you may receive over the radio or other means.
- Underestimating the waters, wakes, or waves. Waves, wakes, and water conditions can be more powerful than they look, sometimes damaging the hull or other parts of your boat or even causing the craft to capsize.
Talk to a Boating Accident Attorney Today
If you have been injured in a boating accident, either caused by another boat operator or the person operating the vessel you’re on, you may be entitled to compensation. At Auger & Auger Accident and Injury Lawyers, we know how complicated the legal process can be after this type of accident. We’re here to help you understand the complete process to figure out the best steps for you and your family.