Once again, summer is here and it’s time for boating season. Here in Indiana and Illinois, recreational boaters will take advantage of the sunny, warm weather and get out on our waterways for all sorts of reasons.
Fishermen may take their pontoons out on Patoka Lake, for instance. Motorboats are going to be whizzing around Chicago’s Marina District. There will be parties and celebrations on personal watercraft of all types over the Fourth of July.
Sadly, with all this excitement and fun there are going to be some accidents involving recreational boats this year. Some will be minor; others are going to result in serious injuries and even death.
Dangers of Injury or Death in Boating Accident
Boating, especially recreational boating, comes with a risk of injury or death that is much higher than many in Indiana and Illinois may realize. From the U.S. Coast Guard’s 2016 Recreational Boating Safety Statistics, we know the following:
- Most boating fatalities are caused by drowning. Drowning is the cause of death in 80% of all fatalities recorded by the Coast Guard.
- A great majority of these boating fatalities happened to victims who were not wearing a life jacket. It’s a high number: 83% of drowning victims in boating accidents had no life jacket.
- The number of deadly boating accidents is on the rise. Last year’s fatality rate was 11.3% higher than the number of boating fatalities in 2015.
- Drinking and intoxication are big problems in recreational boating accidents. Alcohol played a factor in 5% of the boating deaths last year.
Top Five Reasons for Deaths in Recreational Boating Accidents
According to the Coast Guard, there are errors and negligence that happen time and again in these fatal recreational boating accidents. They are:
- Boat operator inattention
- Boat operator inexperience
- Improper lookout by the driver
- Excessive speed (speeding) and
- Machinery or mechanical failure.
Three Most Dangerous Types of Recreational Boats for a Fatal Boating Accident
The three recreational boats with the highest risk of a fatal boating accident are:
- open motorboats (47%)
- personal watercraft (18%)
- cabin motorboats (15%).
Warnings to Be Careful While Boating This Summer
Those with past experience in dealing with boating fatalities are anxious to try and prevent serious boating accidents this year in Indiana and Illinois, no matter the reason.
The police, non-profit boating organizations, and the media are all trying to get the word out: recreational boating needs to be respected for its dangers and risks before more people are seriously injured or killed in boating accidents this year.
Police Warn the Public about Boating Risks
Last week, the Illinois Conservation Police issued a warning to boaters in Illinois about the dangers of boating accidents this summer. Of particular concern, boating while intoxicated and boating without wearing life jackets.
In some areas, law enforcement is going a step further. They are actively targeting boat operators for legal infractions in the hopes that accidents and fatalities will be prevented.
For instance, the Lake County Sheriff’s Department has publicly warned that its officers will be on the lookout for anyone suspected of boating under the influence.
Boating Groups Concerned About BOI and Failure to Wear Life Jackets
Non-profit groups concerned about boating dangers are also issuing warnings. Take the recent statements issued by the U.S. Freshwater Boaters Alliance.
As USFBA Commodore Paul Joseph warns, people need to remember that recreational boating involves vehicles that can move at high rates of speed — and accidents can happen in an instant.
Media Editorials on Being Careful While Boating
Editorials are being published by concerned media, who know all too well that each summer brings with it the tragic stories of lives lost in local boating accidents. See, for example, the concerns voiced by the Journal Courier in their editorial published June 7, 2017, “Summer’s fun carries a need for extra care.”
Legal Duties and Serious Boating Accident
State law protects against boating accidents, of course. There is a law on the books in Indiana, for instance, that requires a boat operator to act in a “reasonable and prudent manner” when operating any “personal watercraft.” Indiana Statute IC 14-15-12-10.
In Indiana, the law not only requires boat operators to operate their watercraft in a “reasonable and prudent manner,” but it outlines what their duties are in any boating accident where there is an injury or death.
Another law, Indiana statute IC 14-15-4-1, explains the “duties of operators,” when there is a boating accident. 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:
- Stop the boat immediately and as close as possible to the scene of the accident.
- Return to the scene of the accident and remain there until the operator has complied with this section.
- the operator’s name and address;
- a full identification of the boat operated; and
- the name and address of the owner;
- to the operator of each other boat and each person injured.
- Upon request, exhibit the operator’s license to the operator of each other boat and each person injured.
- 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:
- it is apparent that treatment is necessary; or
- the injured person so requests.
Bodily Injury Claims after a Serious Boating Accident
The most tragic result of a boating accident is the death of someone who had begun their day simply looking to enjoy some time on the water. However, even those who survive a serious boating accident may face tragedies of their own, as they deal with life-altering bodily injuries.
Many who are injured in a boating accident survive only to face severe and life-threatening injuries including spinal cord injuries and traumatic brain injuries. They can be permanently disabled from an afternoon’s fun gone bad in a boating catastrophe.
This summer, every effort needs to be made to make everyone on the water aware of the dangers of a serious boating accident. Boat safety courses are a good thing for boaters; wearing a life jacket is wise. Let’s enjoy a fun summer out there, fishing and sailing and skiing, without injury or mishap. Be careful out there!