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Boating or Watercraft Accidents


Boating and watercraft or water vessel accidents are events in which an individual is injured or killed while on a boat or any water vessel. They can occur when the owner or operator negligently navigates the craft, causing injury. These accidents occur when two vessels collide or when a mechanical or design defect causes a malfunction.


Most commonly, boating accidents occur when two boats collide. Determination of liability is similar to determination of liability in motor vehicle accident cases. An operator who was operating the craft at an unsafe speed, or while intoxicated, or otherwise negligently, can be sued by those injured as a result of the negligence.

Boating accidents can also be caused when a boat collides with a dock or port. Boating accidents may also occur when either the boat or boat product malfunctions, causing injury to an operator, a passenger, or the operator or passenger of another boat.


Typically, the operator of a boat is the person most likely to be liable for a boating accident. If the operator operates the boat in a negligent fashion, and that negligence causes injury, the operator can be liable for damages. An operator, much like a drunk driver, can be liable for injuries sustained as a result of the operator's being intoxicated.

Alcohol or drug intoxication may render a driver unable to properly operate a boat, increasing the risk of injury. Boat owners have a duty to ensure their boat is maintained in proper condition before they sail. To maintain a boat in proper condition, an owner must make sure that the parts of the boat, and the boat's safety system, are in proper working order. If a boating malfunction can be traced to a manufacturing defect or design defect, the product manufacturer may be held liable.


The number of people who are injured or killed in boating accidents seems to increase each year. According to a recent report published by the United States Coast Guard, there were 5,265 boating accidents within the last year, amounting to roughly $62.5 million dollars in property damage. These numbers reflect boating accidents associated with recreational boating activities and do not account for boating accidents that may not have been reported.

Boating accidents can occur between all different kinds of water vessels, including yachts, houseboats, cruise ships, and even duck boats. As more consumers become boat owners, the number of boating accidents that occur every year will only continue to rise. This also means that the number of lawsuits involving boating accident claims will most likely increase as well.

In general, a boating accident is said to have occurred when any of the following conditions are present:

  • An individual is injured, disappears, or dies during a boat outing or while they are on board a boat. This means that a boat does not necessarily need to be moving in order to be part of a boating accident.
  • Alternatively, a boating accident may also occur if a boat is damaged or causes damage to other property during an incident. In this case, the boating accident may or may not involve injuries to persons.


Jet skis are a type of small personal recreational watercraft. They usually have a seating/steering configuration like a motorcycle, and can often seat 1-2 people. Due to their small size, they are generally more maneuverable than boats, and can often travel at high speeds.

Some common types of jet ski accidents can include:

  • Accidents involving boats, jet skis, or other watercraft
  • Collisions with rocks, piers, or other stationary objects
  • Collisions with swimmers or persons in the water
  • Accidents related to a failure of the jet ski engine or other component

Jet ski injuries can be serious and can often involve injuries to the spine, head, neck, back and other areas of the body. As in other types of boating accidents, jet ski accidents can result in drowning accidents as well.


Depending on the situation surrounding the accident, various parties can be held liable for a jet ski accidents. In some cases, the driver of a jet ski can be held liable if they were negligent or reckless in driving the jet ski. An example of this is where the driver disregards proper boating and water safety laws in operating their jet ski.

In other cases, the manufacturer of a jet ski model can be held liable if an accident is caused by a defect with the jet ski. For instance, if there is a defect with a jet ski model's design that makes it prone to an engine malfunction, the manufacturer could be held liable for accidents caused by the defect.

Lastly, jet skis are often available for rent. Jet ski rental companies or agencies can sometimes be held liable if they provide jet skis that are defective in some way. This is especially the case if they provided a jet ski that they knew or should have known could cause an accident. 

Some factors that might affect liability in a jet ski lawsuit include:

  • Whether the driver was under the influence when operating the watercraft
  • Whether the jet ski was modified to make it run faster
  • Whether the accident occurred in a jet ski race or competition
  • State and local laws regarding jet ski operation


Sailing is a particularly challenging boating activity. Unlike other types of boating such as paddling or motor-powered boating, sailing requires extensive knowledge of weather and wind patterns, as well as handling of the sails. Thus, while sailboats typically do not travel as fast as other boats, there are various risks involved regarding the maneuvering and controlling of the vessel. People aboard the boat can be exposed to risks and accidents such as:

  • Collisions with rocks or other objects under the boat
  • Collisions with a dock
  • Running aground (such as on the shore or on a sandbar)
  • Collisions with other boats
  • Capsizing
  • Being stranded at sea

These types of accidents can result in severe damage to the boat (and other property as well). Injuries can occur as well; these can include head and neck injuries, abrasion and broken bones, and in more serious cases, drowning.


Liability for a sailboat accident can be traced to many causes. In many cases, the navigator of the boat can be held liable for any negligence displayed in handling the boat. For instance, if they had a duty to change their route to avoid collision with another boat, yet failed to do so, they could become liable for damage or injuries resulting from a collision. More serious issues can arise if the boat operator was found to be under the influence at the time of the accident.

Other legal liability issues can arise from other sources. For instance, if there was a product defect with the boat or with any equipment on the boat (such as a defective navigation tool), the manufacturer of the boat or equipment might become liable for the accident.

Lastly, boat rental companies may also be held liable for knowingly providing faulty or defective vessels to a customer, and similar liability can be extended to negligent parties in a boat charter or sailboat tour.


Paddle boards are floating devices (similar to surfboards but wider), where the person stands on the board and uses an oar to move and maneuver the board. It somewhat of a “cross” between surfing and kayaking, though the person is generally moving slower. They are sometimes called by other names, such as “stand-up paddleboards”.

Paddle board injuries can occur in many ways. These generally involve the person losing their balance and falling off of the board, or colliding with an object, such as a boat, a surfer or swimmer, or other similar obstacles in the water. Paddle board injuries can be similar to those associated with surfing or with boating accidents, such as: head or neck injuries; abrasions from striking rocks under water; joint/bone injuries; and in some cases, drowning or near-drowning experiences.


In many cases, a person who uses a paddle board assumes various risks of injury. However, there are instances where a third party can be held liable for a paddle board injury. For example, if the injury is caused by a defect with the paddle board or with the paddle board equipment, the manufacturer might be liable for the injury.

In other cases, another person in the water can be held liable for negligence or recklessness if they disregard their duty of care and cause injury to a paddle boarder (for instance, if a person drove a boat negligently into a boarder).

In addition, a paddle board instructor or coach can sometimes be held liable for an injury for actions such as:

  • Forcing the student to perform maneuvers beyond their skill level
  • Leading the student into dangers waters or conditions (such as rough waters or bad weather conditions)


In general, the issues in water vessel accident lawsuits are often difficult to resolve without the help of an attorney. Such claims often touch upon various areas of the law, and may even require some knowledge of laws in other countries if an accident occurs in international waters. Water vessel accident lawsuits must also be filed within a specified time frame or a plaintiff could miss out on their opportunity to recover damages for any injuries sustained in an incident.

Therefore, if you recently suffered injuries due to a these accidents, then it is strongly recommended that you hire a local personal injury attorney as soon as possible. An attorney who has experience in handling water vessel cases can review the facts of your incident and will be able to determine whether you have a viable claim.

Your attorney can also recommend the best course of legal action to pursue to increase your chances of recovering damages. In addition, your attorney can perform legal research on the issues in your case and can explain how the relevant laws may affect your odds of winning a lawsuit.

Your attorney can also discuss the types of legal remedies you can receive if your case is successful. Alternatively, if you caused the water vessel accident, your attorney can inform you of your legal rights and can check if there are any legal defenses you can raise that may be important to defeating a claim.

Finally, if you need assistance with filing or defending yourself against a water vessel accident lawsuit, your attorney will be able to offer legal services that can help you in either instance. Your attorney will also be able to provide legal representation in civil court should it become necessary. Call our office today at 212-994-7777 or complete the convenient online contact form to set up a consultation.