Top 10 Common Causes of Boating Accidents in California

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With 3,427 shoreline miles and a wealth of inland waters, it’s no surprise that California is home to more recreational boats than any other state. In Southern California, boating is practically a way of life, offering residents countless fishing, sporting and recreational activities.

The downside, of course, is that California also has more than its fair share of boating accidents. Like car wrecks, boating accidents have the potential to cause catastrophic harm to the people involved. Unlike other types of motor vehicle accidents, however, boat operators are typically unaware of the dangers. 

If you enjoy boating and frequently find yourself on open waters during the summer, it’s essential to educate yourself about boating safety and potential hazards. And if you’ve already been the victim of a serious boating accident and suffered injuries as a result, you need to understand your legal rights. 

Luckily, you don’t need to look too far for answers. This article will explain everything you need to know about types of boating accidents, what causes them and how a boating accident attorney can help protect your future. 

Were you involved in a boating accident caused by someone else? If so, you may be facing property damage, serious injuries and uncertainty about your future. Contact our California boating accident lawyer team online to book a free case evaluation and explore your legal options. 

Boating Accidents in California boats lined up on the dock in California

Californians reported 387 recreational boating accidents in 2022, according to the United States Coast Guard. Of those accidents, 42 were fatal and resulted in 43 total deaths—a disproportionately high toll in comparison to other states. 

Top Primary Accident Types 

Boating accidents (and motor vehicle accidents in general) come in many different forms and can be caused by a variety of factors. The top five primary accident types involving recreational boats in 2022 are as follows: 

  1. Collisions with other recreational vessels
  2. Collisions with fixed objects
  3. Flooding and swamping
  4. Grounding
  5. Falls overboard

Although collisions are the most common type of recreational boating accident, they aren’t necessarily the underlying cause of resulting injuries. To understand what causes most recreational boating accidents, you need to assess the contributing factors. 

Common Causes of Boating Accidents

The first step to ensuring your safety on the water is understanding the conditions that precipitate serious accidents. Here are top primary contributing factors to recreational boating accidents across the U.S., according to the Coast Guard: 

  • Operator inattention. Distracted driving is a major cause of both car accidents and recreational boating accidents. Common distractions include phone usage, drinking or eating, socializing and interacting with other passengers. 
  • Operator inexperience. Just because you can drive a car doesn’t mean you can properly operate a boat; it requires skill, practice and experience with navigating waterways. Inexperienced boat drivers can easily cause accidents when they aren’t aware of navigational markers, potential hazards and emergency procedures. 
  • Improper lookout. Boat operators should maintain proper lookout the entire time they’re driving the boat, which means they must keep a continuous, unobstructed view from the helm. Doing so, however, is typically difficult alone; if possible, drivers should appoint an additional lookout to help them avoid people, vessels, objects and unsafe conditions.
  • Excessive speed. Being on the water doesn’t give boat operators license to drive at any speed they want. Just like on land, they must abide by legal speed limits; failing to do so puts them at risk for serious accidents. 
  • Machinery failure. Boats contain a number of complex pieces of machinery that require routine maintenance to function properly. Lack of maintenance and defective or malfunctioning parts can result in a loss of steering and control, potentially resulting in high-speed accidents. 
  • Weather conditions. When a storm develops out of the blue on land, drivers can pull over and wait for it to pass. Unfortunately, it isn’t quite as easy when you’re out at sea. Weather conditions like heavy rain and high winds can make for rough waters and reduced visibility, making navigation difficult. 
  • Alcohol and drug usage. Boating under the influence–whether of alcohol or drugs—increases one’s risk for being involved in a serious boating accident. It’s crucial to designate a sober boat driver to avoid preventable operator errors that result in accidents like collisions and capsizing. 
  • Violating navigation rules. Boat operators need to have a firm grasp on navigation rules in order to safely navigate waters shared with other boats. Violating navigation rules increases a boater’s risk of collision in situations where two boats are crossing paths, on course to meet head on or when one boat wants to overtake another. 
  • Hazardous waters. Deep waters can hide many unseen dangers, which is why boaters need to be able to recognize the signs of a potential hazard. Dams, submerged objects, tides and currents present some of the most significant risks for boaters. 
  • Force of wake. Wake is the wave a boat generates when moving through the water. When boat operators fail to pay attention to this critical factor, they can overwhelm smaller boats with their wake as well as succumb to the wake created by larger boats. 

By understanding the nature of the surrounding waters, learning the necessary boating rules and operating their vessels responsibly, boat operators significantly decrease their risk of being involved in a potentially fatal accident. But even when they do everything right, boat drivers and passengers can still be injured by the negligent actions of others. 

When to Call a Boating Accident Attorney

Every boating accident is different and involves myriad factors. As a result, understanding when it’s time to call a boating accident attorney can be difficult. Generally speaking, however, it’s a good idea to solicit legal help when the following three are true:

  1. You’ve been involved in a serious boating accident. 
  2. You’ve sustained significant property damage or injuries as a result.
  3. Your accident was caused by someone else. 

Not only can an experienced boating accident lawyer help you hold the at-fault party accountable, but they can also help you recover compensation through a boating accident lawsuit. Potential settlements can include more than your financial losses and compensate you for intangible damages as well. 

Case C. Barnett
Costa Mesa Personal Injury Attorney practicing in child injury law, car accident injuries and elder abuse law
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