Understanding the Realities of Boat Accidents

With literally hundreds of natural and man-made bodies of water like Lake Wallenpaupack and Conneaut Lake, not to mention miles upon miles of rivers and creeks, Pennsylvania enjoys wide appeal as a prime spot for boating and watercraft enthusiasts. In fact, the warmer months offer unique opportunities for individuals, families, and groups to explore a variety of lakes and tributary waterways.

As with any sport or hobby, boating has its downsides as well as its upsides. A recent report issued by the United States Coast Guard noted that of the 55 boating incidents that occurred in Pennsylvania in 2016, 11 resulted in death and 33 in personal injury. To pull together this information, the Coast Guard relied on information from recreational, not professional, accidents that occurred in any type of watercraft, including canoes, motor boats, kayaks and paddleboards.

However, as the summer of 2018 showed, professional boating endeavors also come with risk. The well-publicized deaths of 17 passengers on a tourist duck boat in the midwest indicate just how suddenly water can turn deadly.

Consequently, it’s important for everyone to understand the realities and responsibilities that come with operating a watercraft or even being a passenger.

Why Boating Accidents Tend to Happen

Although each boating accident is a unique occurrence with its own nuances, those that lead to bodily harm or fatalities usually share at least one of the following characteristics.

  • The boat operator is under the influence. Just like drinking and driving–or taking drugs and driving–boat operators should always be 100 percent sober. Many boating accidents could be prevented if operators adhered to this strict policy.
  • No one is wearing protection. Life jackets do save lives. Of all the annual deaths that happen on the water, 80 percent were because of drowning. And about eight out of 10 of those victims were not wearing their life jackets. Even strong, proficient swimmers should make a point to always wear a suitable life vest. No one is immune from drowning.
  • People are operating watercraft in inappropriate settings. In the spring of 2018, a three-person boating accident along the Susquehanna River below Harrisburg took the lives of a mother and toddler. The basic issue? They were too close to a dangerous dam. Before taking watercraft out, all operators should get a better understanding of the area, including any potential hazards.
  • The watercraft isn’t fully functional. Just like any vehicle, a watercraft should be regularly checked for problems. Otherwise, it cannot be trusted to safely get operators or passengers from one point to the next.
  • The boat operator is inexperienced. First-time or inexperienced operators are more apt to make judgment errors than those who have been well-trained and take precautions. For instance, a novice motorboat driver may operate the watercraft at excessive speeds, leading to problems and possibly injuries and fatalities. Similarly, an inexperienced watercraft operator might not understand when water is too turbulent or dangerous to traverse.

Common Boating Accident Injuries

What types of injuries are most likely to happen during a boating accident? Not surprisingly, the top reason for death is drowning, even among people who have years of swimming and boating experience.

Another injury regularly seen in boating victims is bodily harm due to impact of the boat with a naturally occurring object, such as a large rock or overturned tree root, or with another watercraft. Two speeding motorboats that collide can set the stage for injuries similar to those seen during car crashes (e.g., broken bones, traumatic brain injuries (TBIs), whiplash.)

Injuries can also be a result of low water temperature. For instance, one 2017 Pennsylvania Crawford County watercraft accident report surmised that 40-degree Fahrenheit water may have played a role in the death of a kayak operator. Another fatal incident in Berks County that same year also cited cold water immersion as a contributor to operator death.

Avoiding Boating Disasters

While it isn’t reasonable to prepare for every situation, it’s possible to mitigate any problems that may lead to boating accidents.

Some ways to reduce the risk of being hurt in watercraft include:

  • Making sure everyone wears a life jacket, regardless of swimming ability.
  • Ensuring all operators are sober.
  • Knowing the area before setting out.
  • Wearing proper gear for the season and water temperature.
  • Ensuring all operators understand how to work their watercrafts.
  • Operating watercraft during the day unless under very specific nighttime circumstances.

What to Do When Boating-Related Injuries or Death Occur

If you find yourself in a situation where you or someone you care about has been hurt or killed in a boating accident along Pennsylvania’s waterways, our wrongful death attorneys can help.

The team at Wapner Newman has experience working with boating accident cases. Schedule a free consultation today.