Common Causes of Boating Accidents | Cooper and Friedman Law

Your Personal Injury Lawyers

Millions of dollars collected for seriously
injured people like you

The Top Causes for Boating Accidents

Written by Cooper & Friedman PLLC on September 26, 2022
What should I do if I get into a boating accident?


When you get out on the water – whether that be a personal pond, a lake, a reservoir, an ocean, a sea, a river, etc. – no one ever wants to think about the risks we take as we do so, and the high possibility of boating accidents. After all, taking one last romp around the water before the temperatures stop us from doing so seems like a great idea – and usually, it is!

But the idea is attractive to more than just one or two boaters, and as boating season comes to an end, more boats out on the water means a higher potential for a boating accident. We’ve compiled a list of the most common causes for boating accidents so that when you take to the water, you can be on the lookout for the safest ways to coexist with both other boaters and the nature of the waves.

6 of the Most Common Causes of Boating Accidents

1. Operator Inattention

One of the top reasons for boating accidents unfortunately falls on the one operating the boat. There’s a lot of responsibility that’s put on the captain of the boat, and for good reason. Needing to be aware of the boat and whether or no it’s functioning correctly, the water, other boats, and any passengers they might have, operators need to be sharp and attentive to all of their surroundings at all times.

If they fail to be, inattention can lead to boating accidents such as collisions with other boaters, passengers falling overboard (as well as onboard), and running aground – all of which can cause serious injury to both person and property. It’s easy to get distracted on a boat containing a lot of passengers, especially if you’ve been a boat operator for a long time – there’s nothing like complacency to cause accidents. No one wants to deal with the emotional turmoil and insurance nightmares that would result from something like that – so it’s best to keep your eyes and your attention towards the things that need to be seen.

2. Operator Inexperience

Did you know that most rental agencies don’t require those renting to have a boating license? Most don’t – only the certification of completion of a boating safety course.

Seen especially in bodies of water surrounding college or university towns and tourist locations, operator inexperience needs to be considered both by the operator and the passengers. A lot of safety concerns that follow operator inexperience can also be categorized as operator inattention, since new boaters might not know what they need to know, or what they need to be paying attention to. Just like learning how to drive, operating a boat needs practice and more knowledge than you can get from a Google search.

Inexperience with bad weather could lead to a false sense of confidence for people who’ve captained a boat a few times on calm waters, but weather is fickle, and needs to be accounted for. The same concept goes towards the force of natural waves or unforeseen wakes from other irresponsible boaters – no one knows how each experience on the water is going to go, and captains need to be ready for it all. There’s navigational rules to take into consideration, technicalities on how to read a boat’s informational center, proper boating etiquette to learn, and proper knowledge on how to handle emergencies so that they aren’t exacerbated.

3. Improper Lookout

In an ideal world, every captain would have another person as a lookout. As mentioned above, it’s difficult for a captain to be paying laser-focused attention to each and every little detail, so the more eyes you have, the better off you’ll be. Especially if you’re boating on a family-friendly, populated body of water on a bright day, visibility can become compromised, and boating accidents more likely.

Things that a captain and/or lookout needs to be aware of can include but is not limited to:

  • Small manually-operated vessels such as kayaks, paddle boards, canoes, etc.
  • Boat-trailing activities such as tubing, water skiing, wakeboarding, etc.
  • Swimmers away from their boats
  • Water-dwelling animals
  • Debris such as floating logs, seaweed tangles, large sections of fishing litter, etc.
  • Land shelves and geography
  • Other boats

4. Excessive Speed

Since boats are technically motor vehicles, many people compare driving them to that of driving a car. And when it comes to speed – or excessive speed, specifically – boats are just as prone to accidents because of speeding as cars are. Not only does speeding increase the risk of a boating accident, but it also increases the severity of the accident, as well. Two boats that become unhitched and accidentally float into each other will sustain much less damage than if one or both of those boats were going full speed.

Excessive speed also lowers the time you have to react if something unexpected were to happen. This is especially important to consider if you’re boating in closed waterways with terrain and land that blocks your vision to other areas of the water, and there’s a potential for blockages to appear when you round a corner. This could be other boats, man-rowed vessels, or people attached to the boat further behind on a tube or skis that elongate the time the boat needs to pass by safely. You need to have the time to react and stop quickly if need be, and excessive speed makes this increasingly more difficult the faster you go.

5. Alcohol Use

In a cause of boating accidents that a lot of operators like to avert their eyes from, alcohol and drug use are one of the top culprits on the water. If you wouldn’t drink and drive, why would you drink and drive a boat? Remember that in addition to risking an accident, you can also get pulled over by water police for driving while impaired. Know your limits, and take into account factors that could change them.

If you’re out on the water for the entire day, you might not realize how much you drink over the course of the day, and by the time you pack up to head back to shore, you might be too impaired to drive the boat. If you know exactly how much alcohol you can have before becoming impaired, keeping in mind that there are certain factors which will affect how quickly you become inebriated, including:

  • How much you’ve had to eat
  • How hot it is
  • How much water you drink in between alcoholic beverages
  • Certain medications you might be taking
  • What type of alcoholic beverage you’re drinking

6. Machinery Failure

Finally, we come to a top cause of boating accidents that isn’t necessarily always the operator’s fault.

If you own your boat, you should always make sure that everything is in working condition and functioning correctly before you go out on the water. Should you know that something is off, or behaving strangely and still decide to take it out on the water, you pose a great risk to other boaters, and might be held responsible if your neglect causes damage.

If you’re renting your boat and have all the proper qualifications, but still end up in or causing an accident because of equipment failure, then depending on the rental agreement you sign, you might have grounds for a case.

Either way, a boating operator should have the necessary knowledge to ascertain if there is something wrong with a boat. In the the U.S. Coast Guard’s boating safety guide, the say that, “…serious accidents often reflect mechanical failure and that can easily stem from electrical troubles. A faulty battery won’t start a boat motor. Boat lights won’t work either, so if it’s nighttime, you’re stranded and practically invisible.”

For the safety of you and others, you should always have flares and high-powered flashlights for these kinds of situations.

I Had a Boating Accident and It Wasn’t My Fault

If you or someone you love has been injured in a boating accident in the State of Kentucky and are in need of an experienced injury attorney, give the lawyers at the Cooper & Friedman law firm a call. The attorneys at Cooper and Friedman PLLC have over 50 years of combined experience defending the rights of boating accident victims. Contact us with questions you might have or schedule a free case consultation with an attorney by calling 502-459-7555 today.

Posted Under: Boating Accident, Kentucky Laws, Personal Injury