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Is there a legal definition for a boating accident under maritime law? According to the
Coast Guard, a recreational boating accident means a recreational vessel, numbered
vessel, or documented vessel is being used by its operator for recreational purposes
and one or more of the following events occur involving the vessel and its equipment:

▪ Grounding
▪ Capsizing
▪ Flooding/Swamping
▪ Falls within or overboard a vessel
▪ Person(s) ejected from a vessel
▪ Person leaves a vessel that is underway to swim for pleasure
▪ Person leaves a vessel to retrieve a lost item, another person, or vessel
▪ Sinking
▪ Fire or Explosion
▪ Skier Mishap
▪ Collision with another vessel or object
▪ Striking a submerged object
▪ The vessel, propeller, propulsion unit or steering machinery strikes a person
▪ Carbon monoxide asphyxiation
▪ Electrocution

As a general guideline, if any of these events occur and there is a reasonable likelihood
that as a result of the event(s) - an injury, death, or property damage occurs, the
incident is a recreational boating accident.

Regardless of how you define a boating accident, one thing is certain…it would be nice
if there were less of them. To understand how they might be prevented, one might look
at the causes of boating accidents. In its accident statistics, the Coast Guard lists the
top ten contributing factors to pleasure boat accidents. Ranking from highest to lowest,
in 2004 these were:


Going back to the Coast Guard study, they identified the top five types of boating
accidents. In 2004, starting at the highest rate of occurrence, these were (1.) Collision
with Vessel, (2.) Collision with a Fixed Object, (3.) Falling Overboard, (4.) Capsizing and
(5.) Skier Mishap.

Since boating accidents impact peoples’ lives in such terrible ways, it’s worth doing all
that we can to avoid them. While some accidents might not appear preventable, there’s
something we can all do to make boating safer. We can use our lifejackets. This may
seem like tiresome advice you hear from every boating safety expert out there. But
when you look at the Coast Guard reports, the statistics show that fatalities were
always lower where the boater wore a life jacket.

To see how the Coast Guard collects and manages information related to boating
accidents, click
Recreational Boating Accident Statistics.

Source: “You’re In Command, Boat Responsibly” - Boating Statistics 2004
United States Coast Guard Pub. P16754.18

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Causes of Recreational Boating Accidents
New Jersey Boating Accident Attorney - Boating Accident Legal Information - Boating Injury - Injured by Jet Ski -
Careless or Reckless
OperationOperator Inattention
Operator Inexperience
Excessive Speed
Hazardous Waters
Alcohol Use
Passenger-Skier Behavior
Machinery System Failure
No Proper Lookout
Rules of the Road Infraction
When you look at the top ten
contributing factors of
boating accidents cited by
the Coast Guard (below to
the right, numbered 1
through 10), some of them
boil down to negligence.
Negligence means that
someone had a duty to
follow a certain standard of
care in operating a vessel.
They failed to follow that
standard and as a result,
someone was injured or
something was damaged. If
the injury was causally
related to the departure from
that standard of care…and
the injury was foreseeable,
then the offender is liable for
negligent operation of a

If the level of negligence is
so gross…the departure
from the standard of care so
great…the offense can rise
a level of criminal
negligence. In criminal
negligence, the vessel
operator fails to recognize a
very serious risk. Compare
this with recklessness,
where the crime results
from the vessel operator
recognizing a risk…but
disregarding it. An example
could be two speedboats
racing through a flotilla of
children engaged in a
sailboat race. The
speedboaters couldn’t
argue that they failed to
recognize a risk….that
would be absurd. They
clearly recognized the
risk…they created it! But
they ignored it because they
wanted to have a race.
Criminal liability is defined
by statute…and depending
on where a serious boating
accident occurs, the penal
codes can be worded
differently from state to state.