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April 19, 2022

What is the first action required of a boat operator who witnesses a boating accident?

In Florida law, all vessels are tagged as dangerous instrumentality. This means that the boat operator needs to exercise the highest degree of care to prevent injuries to others. However, even careful boaters can find themselves involved in or witnessing an accident. So if an incident does happen, what is the first action required of a boat operator who witnesses a boating accident?

In this article, we're going to discuss the steps that operators need to do in case of a boating accident, the common causes of such accidents, and the safety measures they must undertake.

What Is The First Action Required of a Boat Operator Who Witnesses a Boating Accident

What Does An Operator Need to Do After a Boating Accident?

An operator involved in a boating accident must do the following steps:


1. Ensure the Safety of All Passengers

The first action that an operator needs to do after a boating accident is to ensure the safety of all their passengers. A boat operator has a legal duty to help anyone injured in the accident. Administer first aid if needed or request medical assistance. If anyone fell overboard, get them back onto the boat as soon as possible.

The boat operator must stop the boat immediately at the scene of the accident unless doing so would cause harm to anyone on board. Examples of such cases are when the boat is sinking or is in the way of being hit by other boats. In this instance, it's better to move the boat into a safer location or, if it's sinking, get it to shore. Otherwise, stay where you are.

If there are injuries or extensive damages to the boats involved in the accident, immediately call for law enforcement.

2. Document the Incident

Although a boating accident might not always lead to a civil case, an insurance claim will still most likely occur. So it's always better to be prepared by documenting the scene of the accident. Take photo evidence, collect information from people involved in the boating accident, and ask for a copy of the police report.

Also, provide your contact information, vessel identification number, and insurance details to anyone involved in the boating accident.

3. File a Boating Accident Report

If the boating accident involved a loss of life, disappearance, or someone being injured requiring medical attention beyond first aid, then the driver involved needs to file a written boating accident report. This also applies if the property damage is more than $2,000, as well as if the vessel was totaled.

Florida law requires operators to submit an accident report within 48 hours if the condition above was met. It should be made to the Division of Law Enforcement, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the County Sheriff, or the police chief of the city where the accident occurred.

4. Contact An Attorney

The boat operator should call an experienced boating accident attorney as soon as possible. A lawyer can help you understand your rights and gather the evidence you might need for a compensation claim.

What Is The First Action Required of a Boat Operator Who Witnesses a Boating Accident

Legal Consequences of The Boat Operator's Response to a Boating Accident

The boat operator should never leave the accident scene. Running away or failing to notify the concerned government authorities will lead to more problems for the operator involved in a boating accident. Doing so can lead to severe legal punishments such as fines and jail time.


Common Causes of Boating Accidents


Operator Inexperience

Boating is not as simple as casting off the lines and heading in the direction you want. The boat operator needs to have the knowledge and experience to operate the vessel they're going to use. It is imperative for an operator to take a boater education course to have an understanding of the rules and regulations of boating as well as how to operate a boat safely.

Operator Inattention

Just like distracted driving, operator inattention can be a cause of serious accidents. Actions such as using the phone, eating, and drinking alcohol while driving can make the operator easily lose control of the vessel.

Improper Lookout

Having a skipper or a lookout is like having a second set of eyes and ears. This allows the operator to focus on driving the vessel. A lookout's purpose is to assist the operator by scanning the surroundings for anything that could harm the vessel and its passengers. The lookout also needs to have knowledge on how to use the tools on the boat as well as understanding the markers and waterways before heading out.

Mechanical Failure

Regular maintenance is needed for a boat to operate properly and safely. It is the owner's responsibility to ensure that the boat is in good condition all the time. This includes performing a vessel checkup before the boat departs.

Reckless Actions

It's not just the operator who needs to be careful. Everyone, including the passengers, is expected to act responsibly to prevent accidents from happening. Such reckless behaviors include excessive drinking and movements on the vessel, as well as speeding and overloading the boat.

Severe Weather

The weather is not in anyone's control. However, operators and passengers should be responsible for checking weather conditions and forecasts before leaving for the waters. It's better to cancel or postpone a trip than sail in inclement weather and suffer a boating accident.

Boating Accident Lawyer in Tampa

Safety Measures Boating Operators Must Take

Nobody wants to be involved in a boating accident. But at the same time, nobody can really tell when an accident is going to happen. Nonetheless, it's important to practice caution and for the operator to implement safety measures to prevent accidents as much as possible.

  • Always wear a life jacket. In the United States Coast Guard's recreational boating statistics for 2020, 86% of the drowning victims were not wearing a life jacket. So always make sure that everyone on the vessel is wearing a U.S Coast Guard-approved life jacket. It's also important to have extra life jackets for both adults and children on board.
  • Don't drink alcohol on board. Operating a boat while intoxicated with alcohol or drugs is just like driving under the influence—it's dangerous and can be penalized.
  • Have a safety kit on board. Always be prepared for any kind of situation. Bring flashlights, fire extinguishers, and anything that might help in case of a boating accident.
  • Check the weather forecast. It is the operator's duty to check the weather forecast before heading out to the waters. Assess the condition of the skies, as well as the waves and temperature of the waters.
  • Take a boating safety course. From USGC's 2020 report, 77% of deaths on boats occurred when the operator did not receive boating safety instruction. So it's important that you know your responsibility as the operator and the rules and regulations of boating.


Boating Accident Lawyer in Tampa

Due to its beaches and waterways, Florida has the highest number of recreational water vehicle accidents in the U.S. If you're an operator involved in a Tampa boating accident, working with a lawyer familiar with your situation can help you get the compensation you deserve.

John C. Murrow is a Tampa Bay personal injury lawyer who has experience and knowledge of boating accident claims. He will help you gather the evidence you need for a claim and fight to get you the settlement you need to cover your medical treatment and losses.

Work with a Tampa boating accident lawyer. Contact John at (813) 999 4950 for a free consultation.


The blog published by John C. Murrow Law is available for informational purposes only and is not considered legal advice on any subject matter. By viewing blog posts, the reader understands there is no attorney-client relationship between the reader and the blog publisher. The blog should not be used as a substitute for legal advice from a licensed professional attorney, and readers are urged to consult their own legal counsel on any specific legal questions concerning a specific situation.


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