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What Is the Cause of Most Boating Accidents?

Grimes & Fertitta > Personal Injury  > Boat Accidents  > What Is the Cause of Most Boating Accidents?

What Is the Cause of Most Boating Accidents?

what causes boating accidents

When someone has either lost a loved one or received injuries in a boating accident, they often wind up asking the question, “What is the cause of most boating accidents?” The answer to this question can be quite complicated.

Imagine a boating accident in which a passenger lost their life. This hypothetical accident involves a collision with a fixed object during stormy weather. The operator of the boat had been drinking and wasn’t paying proper attention when the collision occurred. And when the collision occurred, a passenger (who had also been drinking and who was not wearing a life jacket) fell overboard and drowned. 

All of these factors — the type of boating accident, the contributing circumstances, and the type of death — play a role in the ultimate “cause” of an accident. And in personal injury cases, all of these factors need to be explored in order to determine who is liable for the incident. 

Nevertheless, the bottom line is this: The vast majority of boating accidents are avoidable.

The Houston boat accident lawyers at Grimes & Fertitta have years of experience handling the ins and outs of boating accident cases in Houston and The Woodlands. Known for our thorough investigative practices and compassionate representation, we work to serve both justice and our clients’ best interests.

If you or a loved received injuries in a boating accident, learn more about how to fully answer the question, “What is the cause of most boating accidents?” then call Grimes & Fertitta at 713-224-7644 to schedule your consultation today. 

So, what is the cause of most boating accidents? Understanding the top 6 contributing factors.

Every year, the U.S. Coast Guard releases a report on the previous year’s boat accident statistics. These annual recreational boating statistics show everything from weather conditions during accidents to the types of bodies of water in which the accidents took place that year. The following definitions and statistics are based on the 2019 accident report.

According to the coast guard, the top 10 contributing factors to accidents are, in order from most to least number of accidents:

1. Operator inattention 

“Failure on the part of the operator to pay attention to the vessel, its occupants, or the environment in which the vessel is operating.” 

We’ve all heard of distracted driving, but distracted boating brings its own dangers, and is the leading contributing factor to boating accidents. In particular, the use of cell phones has caused an increasing number of accidents, injuries, and fatalities on the water. Other common distractions include eating, checking equipment, and inexperience using a boat’s controls (and thus needing to take your eyes off the water to operate them). 

2. Improper lookout 

“No proper watch; the failure of the operator to perceive danger because no one was serving as a lookout, or the person so serving failed in that regard.” 

Even if you give driving your full attention, there is a lot to look out for on the water for just one person. That’s why boat operators often assign a lookout, a “second set of eyes” to help them watch out for dangers. Improper lookout also covers the operator’s failure to research the waterways in which they intend to navigate and the misuses of/failure to use the ship’s lights and on-ship radar tools. 

3. Operator inexperience 

“Lack of practical experience or knowledge in operating a vessel or, more particularly, the vessel involved in the accident.” 

Almost all people receive a certain amount of training before driving a car, but the same can’t always be said of boat operators, despite the fact that boater education courses are required in Texas. Even if an operator has completed these courses, it can be easy for someone who has gone on one or two successful boat trips in calm waters to have a false sense of security when taking longer voyages on unfamiliar waters or within unfamiliar vessels. 

The best way to avoid these scenarios is by committing to plan for each time you go out on the water, especially in unfamiliar territory. Learn the area’s traffic patterns and typical routes, where the currents are strongest, where you can go if you need help, and typical weather conditions as well as the forecast. Just like you shouldn’t go on a car trip without stocking up on supplies, you also wouldn’t want to go on a long boating trip without making sure you have the right basic tools and a little more than enough food and water on-hand. 

4. Excessive speed

“Speed above that which a reasonable and prudent person would have operated under the conditions that existed. It is not necessarily a speed in excess of a posted limit.” 

In Texas, there aren’t speed limits out on the open water, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use your common sense. Just like in a car, speeding increases the distance required to safely stop your vessel and reduces the amount of time a driver may have to react to sudden changes. Out on the water, these sudden changes can range from submerged swimmers or wildlife popping up in front of you, to unexpectedly high and strong waves, to rocks hidden just beneath the surface of the water. 

Should your boat collide with something, the chances that someone will go overboard upon impact also increase when you are moving at unsafe speeds.

5. Alcohol use 

In this case, alcohol use refers to the Intoxication of either the operator or passengers of a vessel. While Texas does not maintain open container laws for boats, if a boat operator’s blood alcohol level is .08 or higher, they can be charged with Boating While Intoxicated (BWI). As we’ll see in a moment, boating and intoxication can be a lethal combination and one you should avoid if you care for your wellbeing, the wellbeing of your passengers, and the wellbeing of others on the water.  

6. Machinery failure

“Defect and/or failure in the machinery or material, design or construction, or components installed by the manufacturer involved in the mechanical propulsion of the boat (e.g., engine, transmission, fuel system, electric system, and steering system).”

Equipment failure can be terrifying to experience out on the open water, especially if you have neither contact with anyone on land nor the tools to fix your equipment. Worse, equipment failure frequently happens during harsh weather conditions, right when we need our instruments the most. To prepare for and avoid this situation, check your equipment every time before you set sale, make sure you have extra fuel, tools, and spare parts on-board, and learn from an expert how to fix basic issues with your equipment. 

Additional contributing factors 

These are just the top contributing factors to boating accidents. Other top issues include navigation rules violations, inclement weather, hazardous waters, and the force of the wave/wake that occurs as a boat’s hull moves through the water, etc. And of course, accidents are often affected by more than one contributing factor. 

Types of boating accidents 

The aforementioned contributing factors can all lead to many types of boating accidents. According to the coast guard, these are the top 10 types of boating accidents, in order from most common to least, at the time of writing: 

  1. Collision with a recreational vehicle 
  2. Collision with a fixed object
  3. Grounding 
  4. Flooding/Swamping 
  5. Falls overboard 
  6. Skier Mishap
  7. Capsizing 
  8. Ejected from vessel 
  9. Collision with a submerged object
  10. Fuel-related fire/explosion

Of these, collision with a recreational vehicle occurs more frequently by a wide margin, with 1,071 accidents of this type occurring in 2019 alone. (For comparison, there were 493 accidents involving a collision with a fixed object in 2019.) 

What is the number one cause of boating deaths?

Drowning is by far the highest leading cause of death in boat accidents. While the majority of these deaths could have been avoided with the use of life jackets, some occurred in conjunction with a serious injury such as a TBI injury or a neck or spine injury

The U.S. Coast Guard also highlights two critical contributing factors that often play a role in boating accidents that result in wrongful death. Namely, that alcohol and a lack of safety instruction increase the likelihood of an accident being fatal: 

  • Alcohol use is the leading known contributing factor in fatal boating accidents; where the primary cause was known, it was listed as the leading factor in 23% of deaths.”  
  • “Where instruction was known, 70% of deaths occurred on boats where the operator did not receive boating safety instruction. Only 20% percent of deaths occurred on vessels where the operator had received a nationally-approved boating safety education certificate.”

Why consult a lawyer if you were injured in a boating accident? 

In personal injury boating accident cases, a boating accident attorney investigates whether or not the factors contributing to injuries or deaths could have been avoided if the vessel operator, boating company, or manufacturer that created the boat’s equipment had taken legally necessary and standard precautions.

As mentioned previously, it can be difficult to identify all of the contributing factors in an accident. Doing so involves not only the investigation of the accident site, interviewing witnesses, and presenting a case but also a thorough understanding of the different types of vessels (from yachts to personal watercraft) and the different types of landscapes in which an accident can happen (from rivers to the ocean or gulf).

For someone who has just lost a loved one or who has recently been injured in a boating accident, sorting out all of these details on top of navigating litigation and pursuing a claim can feel overwhelming, or even impossible. 

The costs of not pursuing a claim can be extreme

A successful boating injury case can help survivors of a boating accident receive compensation for related medical expenses, pain and suffering, lost wages, and more — expenses that they otherwise would have had to bear on their own.

A Houston personal injury lawyer can help ease these burdens to the extent that you and your family can focus on recovery without giving up your right to pursue compensation. Most personal injury lawyers (including those at Grimes & Fertitta) work on a contingency basis, meaning that their clients do not pay them unless they are able to win the case. 

Note: For those accidents involving failed equipment, clients may wish to seek representation from a boating/personal injury lawyer who also has experience as a Houston product liability lawyer. At Grimes & Fertitta, our attorneys have successfully represented clients involved in these types of cases and more. 

Call Grimes & Fertitta, Houston boating accident attorneys, if you’ve been in a boating accident

If you or a loved one were recently injured in a boating accident in Houston or The Woodlands, the boat accident attorneys at Grimes & Fertitta are here to help. When you work with us, you gain the competitive advantage of working with former insurance defense lawyers; we can anticipate the tactics used to keep you and your family from getting the compensation you need. 

You also gain the security and peace of mind that come with working with a boat accident law firm that truly keeps your best interests at heart. Our small firm works closely with our clients so that their needs are met during every step of the litigation process. We never treat our clients like “just a case number,” and our successful case record reflects the difference that level of service can make.

It’s time to defend your rights. Call us at 713-224-7644 or contact us online to schedule your free consultation today.

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