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Understanding Boating Laws in the United States: What Do You Need to Know? - morgan and morgan
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Understanding Boating Laws in the United States

Understanding Boating Laws in the United States: What Do You Need to Know?

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Understanding Boating Laws in the United States: What Do You Need to Know?

Most people understand the inherent dangers of driving a car under the influence of drugs or alcohol. People know that other drivers can present a threat when they are distracted or drowsy.
However, many people do not make these considerations when it comes to recreation or travel by boat. 

Boating can be relaxing and enjoyable. Whether you own a boat or only occasionally rent, boating can provide fun for the whole family. However, boating involves as many safety hazards as motor vehicle travel.
Many people forget the inherent dangers of boating when they are on the water. Each year, many people are injured and killed in boating accidents. 
Because of the danger that boats present, safety precautions are paramount. Understanding boating laws in the U.S. is critical for anyone who enjoys this pastime.
If you or someone you love has been hurt in a boating accident, contact a legal professional. You may be owed significant compensation for the resulting costs and injuries.
For help understanding boating laws in the U.S., reach out to the skilled attorneys at Morgan & Morgan. Our maritime and personal injury lawyers are familiar with the local, state, and federal boating statutes across the country.
To arrange a free initial consultation, fill out the contact form on our website. We will review the facts of your claim and advise you on the best course of action in your case.

Boating Accident and Injury Statistics

Just as you should know the rules of the road before driving, it is vital to be aware of boating regulations before you operate a vessel. 

In the United States, more than 2,500 injuries happen as the result of boating accidents each year.
A number of these injuries are fatal. For example, there were 767 fatal boating accidents in 2020.
The fatality rate is one of the most important indicators for tracking the safety of recreational boating. This can be difficult to analyze due to the different regulations that states have put in place, however.
The trusted team at Morgan & Morgan has a working knowledge of the maritime and personal injury statutes in all 50 states. As a result, we can give you the best chance of recovering compensation after a boating accident.
When you need assistance understanding boating laws in the U.S., reach out to the skilled team at Morgan & Morgan.

Common Causes of Boating Accidents

Every boating accident involves many unique factors. That is why personal injury claims resulting from these accidents are so complex.
Still, certain negligent behaviors are more likely to result in mishaps than others. According to research from the U.S. Coast Guard, the ten leading causes of boating accidents are:

  • Inattention of the boat operator
  • Lack of proper lookout
  • Boat operator inexperience
  • Dangerously high speeds
  • Use of alcohol or drugs
  • Faulty equipment or mechanical failure
  • Inclement weather
  • Choppy or dangerous water
  • Wake or wave force

The use of drugs and alcohol is one of the most dangerous causes of boating accidents. If you or someone you love has been injured because a boat operator engaged in negligent behavior, you can seek compensation.

Understanding Boating Laws in the US

The United States currently has some of the loosest regulations regarding boat operation. Many European countries require operators to hold a license. These licenses require certain training.
The United States has no such requirement. Because of this, even inexperienced operators may be behind the wheel of a boat.
This can result in serious boating accidents and injuries. It also results in potentially increased liabilities for unlicensed boat operators.
The laws and regulations on the water are different from those that apply on land. For help understanding boating laws in the U.S., read on.
In the United States, recreational and commercial boat operations are equally important in the eyes of the law. No matter the size of the vessel, all boats have a similar right to navigate public waterways.
All boat operators owe a duty of care to those around them. Boat operators should use appropriate caution to avoid causing injuries to other operators, passengers, swimmers, and other parties.
Large boats and small vessels are the same in the eyes of the law. However, the maneuverability of a boat may be relevant in a boating accident case.
Also, the maximum speed of a vessel may also be taken into consideration. Large vessels have a duty not to cause dangerous displacement of water, known as a wake.

Federal Regulation

There are several federal laws that govern the operation of non-commercial boats in the U.S. For the purposes of understanding boating laws in the U.S., it is important to note that federal laws overrule any state or local statutes.
One set of federal maritime regulations is known as the “Inland Navigation Rules.” These statutes provide guidelines for navigating rivers, harbors, and other inland waters. 
These include specific regulations for motorboats. In particular, each vessel must be numbered by the Coast Guard or state authorities.
The goal of this statute is to ensure safety and uniformity in the use of motorboats across the country. It is vital to hire a personal injury lawyer who understands these federal regulations following an inland boating accident.

State Laws

Local and state authorities also put laws in place to promote boating safety. But these statutes cannot contradict boating laws that have been put in place at the federal level. 
The nature of boating accident claims differs from one state to the next. State laws often regulate the following issues related to boat operation:

  • Required equipment
  • Operation protocol
  • Licensing requirements
  • Numbering and registration

Local and state regulations can drastically influence the recovery that you can achieve in a boating accident case. Determining liability for a boating accident requires specific legal knowledge of relevant statutes.
The accomplished team at Morgan & Morgan has decades of experience in representing boating accident victims nationwide. Let our attorneys recover the money that you are rightfully owed.

Understanding Boating Safety

Although it should be obvious, boats should be operated by those who have experience and knowledge regarding common safety procedures. 

Many inexperienced boat operators expect water vessels to operate like cars on the road do. This is a dangerous misunderstanding. Boat controls can be very counterintuitive. For instance, boats are hardest to control at slow speeds. 
Unlike land vehicles, the operator’s steering movements are not the only factors that determine the direction of the vessel. The movement of a boat is also influenced by the winds, currents, and waves surrounding the vessel.
It takes experience to navigate choppy or uneven waters. Operators should also understand how to do the following:

  • Start and stop the boat engine
  • Dock the boat safely
  • Avoid potentially dangerous waters
  • Maneuver through narrow water channels

It is also important to keep necessary safety equipment on board. Approved life vests, lanyard engine cutoffs, and first aid kits are vital.
Many boat operators do not have these critical pieces of equipment. In some cases, rental boats have outdated equipment that is no longer operational. 
Before operating a boat, make sure that you have the knowledge, experience, and equipment that you need. If you have been injured while operating or riding in a boat, reach out to Morgan & Morgan.
Our attorneys understand both maritime and personal injury statutes across the country.

Legal Recourse After Boating Injuries

If you have been hurt in a boating accident, you may be able to take legal action to recover compensation. When another boat operator is negligent, they may also face criminal charges. 
Most boating accident cases involve claims of negligence. A boat operator can be held accountable for negligence if they:

  • Fail to follow boating guidelines and regulations
  • Dangerously pass another boat
  • Fail to use proper safety equipment
  • Exhibit reckless behavior

Proving negligence in any personal injury case involves the following four elements:

Duty of Care

Boat operators owe a duty of care to others on the water. They have the responsibility to operate their vessel in a reasonably safe and legal manner.
This duty is implied by the operation of a vessel.

Breach of Duty

To prove that the other party was negligent, the plaintiff must prove that the defendant breached their duty of care. In the case of a boating accident, this means operating a boat in an unsafe or reckless manner.


Proving negligence in a boating accident requires the plaintiff to show that the liable party’s carelessness was the cause of their damages. In other words, the harm the victims sustained must be a result of the other party’s reckless behavior.

Actual Damages

The plaintiff also needs to show that the other party’s actions caused actual damage. If the other person’s carelessness did not cause any harm, the claimant will not be able to prove negligence.
For help with any type of boating accident, reach out to the skilled legal professionals at Morgan & Morgan.

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Morgan & Morgan

  • How Does Morgan & Morgan Handle Attorneys’ Fees?

    The compassionate team at Morgan & Morgan understands that boating accidents result in skyrocketing medical bills and property damage costs. Victims typically cannot afford upfront attorneys’ fees.
    Because of this, our lawyers are paid through contingency fees. With a contingency fee payment structure, the attorney and client agree to a certain percentage of the recovery from the case.
    After the lawyer recovers money, that percentage is used to cover attorneys’ fees. In other words, you will not owe anything unless we recover compensation for you.

  • Can Any Lawyer Take My Boating Accident Case?

    Any lawyer who is licensed to practice in your state can legally take your case. However, it is critical to contact an attorney with experience in boating accident cases.
    These accident cases involve the confluence of many different laws. The lawyers at Morgan & Morgan understand both maritime and personal injury statutes and regulations. We are well equipped to understand the best legal strategies to help you.

  • Reach Out to the Team at Morgan & Morgan

    When you need legal representation following a personal injury, contact the experts at Morgan & Morgan. Since our founding in 1988, Morgan & Morgan has secured more than a million successful verdicts and settlements for our clients.
    We have recovered over $15 billion in compensation for victims of all types of personal injuries. Do not settle for less than the best when you need a personal injury attorney.
    Fill out the contact form on the Morgan & Morgan website to schedule your free legal consultation!

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Last updated on Dec 25, 2022

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