Boating Accidents in Indiana and Illinois: Staying Safe While On the Water


Boating Accidents in Indiana and Illinois: Staying Safe While On the Water

This summer, many of us will be enjoying the warm summer weather with trips to places like Indiana’s Lake Patoka; Big Tippy, Little Tippy, and Oswego (aka Lake Tippecanoe); and Lake James, among many others — as well as Illinois’ lakes including Lake Carlyle; Rend Lake; Horseshoe Lake; and Lake Shelbyville. And of course, there’s always Lake Michigan, right?

Which means it’s boating season. Boaters will be out on the waterways this year in all sorts of vessels, for all kinds of reasons, and at all times of the day and night. Fishermen may have pontoon boats out before dawn on area waterways, for example, while motorboats may be zipping around midday on the weekends.

And with all this boating activity, there will be injuries and accidents. Serious harm is going to come to some people here who jumped on that boat with every intention of having a fun time and coming home safely. Even more tragic, some of these boaters are never going to come home after that boating accident: we’re going to see some fatal boating accidents this year in Indiana and Illinois.

Serious Injuries and Deaths in Boating Accidents Are Expected This Year

Sadly, this is something we believe to be true because of years of experience representing personal injury victims hurt in boating accidents — and because there are all sorts of statistics out there that support our prediction.

According to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, last year on Illinois waterways there were 74 boating accidents that resulted in 14 deaths and 49 serious injuries.

The United States Coast Guard reports that in 2014, Indiana had 40 recreational boating accidents involving 9 fatalities. This is a different tally from drowning or submersion deaths, which were the cause of 76 deaths in Indiana during that same year.

Read the 2014 U.S.C.G. Recreational Boating Report here.

Boating Laws for Illinois and Indiana Designed to Protect Boaters From Harm

Of course, there are laws on the books to try and prevent these things from happening. Both Indiana and Illinois have all sorts of boating laws, rules, and regulations to try and keep people safe from harm while they are on the water. There are also federal boating regulations that apply to operating a vessel in either state.

For much of law enforcement, this means having boat operators who are not driving boats under the influence of alcohol or drugs. And it means having sober passengers on the vessels, too. Another big concern from this perspective: obeying life jacket laws.

There are other legalities, too. For instance, motorboat operators in Illinois also have to take, and pass, a boating safety course and have a current Boating Safety Certificate to operate a motorboat on Illinois waters. Indiana has a similar licensing requirement for operating a motorboat in Indiana.

As explained by Illinois Conservation Police Chief Rafael Gutierrez, “We encourage safe boating throughout the year in Illinois, and reminders about life jackets and sober boating are particularly important heading into the busiest season of the year on the water. Like fastening a seat belt in your car or truck, fastening a life jacket can save your life; and, staying sober while operating a boat is the law in Illinois.”

  1. Laws have been passed to define the duties of a boat operator, both to his passengers as well as those with whom he is sharing the waterways.

In Indiana, for instance, Indiana statute IC 14-15-3-3 legally requires a boat operator to “operate the boat in a careful and prudent manner,” having due regard for the following:

(1) The rights, safety, and property of other persons.
(2) The conditions and hazards, actual and potential, then existing, including weather and density of traffic.
(3) Possible injury to the person or property of other persons.

2.  There are also laws in place for what is to be done in the event of a boating accident.

Indiana statute IC 14-15-4-1 explains the legal “duties of operators,” under Indiana law. Here, the law states:

The operator of a boat involved in an accident or a collision resulting in injury to or death of a person or damage to a boat or other property shall do the following:

1. Stop the boat immediately and as close as possible to the scene of the accident.
2. Return to the scene of the accident and remain there until the operator has complied with this section.
3. Give:
1. the operator’s name and address;
2. a full identification of the boat operated; and
3. the name and address of the owner;

4. to the operator of each other boat and each person injured.
5. Upon request, exhibit the operator’s license to the operator of each other boat and each person injured.
6. Provide reasonable assistance to each person injured, including carrying or arranging for carrying each injured person to a physician, surgeon, or hospital for medical or surgical treatment if:
1. it is apparent that treatment is necessary; or
2. the injured person so requests.

Boating Laws and Personal Injury Claims

These laws create penalties for those that fail to obey them. However, they do not create avenues for accident victims to recover their damages after they have been harmed, in order to obtain coverage for things like medical care, hospital expenses, long-term rehabilitation needs, therapy, lost wages, pain and suffering, and more.

For these boating accident victims, they will need to pursue justice under the state’s personal injury laws and wrongful death statutes. While these boating laws may help the boating accident victim define how the boat operator was negligent and caused their injuries, these boating laws will not, in and of themselves, help the accident victim and their families get financial help for the realities that come after these kinds of serious injuries. More on this in our next post. Be careful out there!

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