Boat Accident Law

Guide to Boat Injury Law



Boating Accident Laws are regulated by federal, state and local authorities and include boating under the influence (BUI), lifejacket laws, navigation rules and several other issues. The laws regulating this recreational sport are enforced to ensure the safety and security of recreational boat users.

Federal law requires the operator – or owner, if the operator is deceased or not capable of making the report – to file a boating accident report with the State reporting authority when, as a result of an occurrence that involves a boat or its equipment: a person dies, disappears from the vessel under circumstances that indicate death or injury, is injured and requires medical treatment beyond first aid, damage to vessels and other property totals $2,000 (lower amounts in some states and territories) or more, or the boat is destroyed.

Owners and operators of recreational boats must be sure that their vessel carries the mandatory safety equipment (carriage requirement) and is in compliance with federal and state regulations. Among the topics of compliance: registration, numbering and documentation, equipment requirements, including life jackets, visual distress signals, fire extinguishers, ventilation, backfire flame control, sound producing devices, navigation lights, pollution regulations and marine sanitation devices; operating procedures, including navigation rules, nautical charts, dams and navigation locks; law enforcement issues, including negligent operation, boating under the influence (BUI), termination of use, boat accident reporting requirements, rendering assistance to other boaters and U.S. Coast Guard boarding policy; safety and survival requirements, including carbon monoxide hazards, overloading, anchoring, cold water survival, trailering, safe refueling, propeller blade hazards, and weather precautions; marine/emergency communications, including satellite EPIRBs, Digital Selective Calling, Rescue 21, radio regulations, VHF-FM marine radio channels, and ships in distress; other boater responsibilities, including bridges and shipping channels, commercial shipping safety zones, naval vessel protection zones and U.S. Coast Guard security/limited access areas.

For more information on Boating Laws, please review to the resources below. Additionally, you can find an attorney in your area on our Law Firms page that focuses on boating laws and can help you with your questions or any legal claims you may have.

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Boating Accident Law - US

  • Boat Accident Report (BAR)

    Federal law requires the operator – or owner, if the operator is deceased or unable to make the report – to file a boating accident report with the State reporting authority when, as a result of an occurrence that involves a boat or its equipment: * A person dies * A person disappears from the vessel under circumstances that indicate death or injury * A person is injured and requires medical treatment beyond first aid * Damage to vessels and other property totals $2,000 (lower amounts in some states and territories) or more * The boat is destroyed.

  • Boat Ed - State Boating Agencies

    Boat Ed is the only place on the Web where you can study the official boating safety manual developed specifically for your state government's boating agency. After studying the course material and taking an online boater exam, students who pass will receive their official boater education certification. You can be certain that the boating certification card you receive for passing the online boating test will be recognized by the officers on the waterways.

  • Boating Safety Resource Center

    In addition to commercial vessels, more than 76 million recreational boaters use our waterways. Our recreational boating safety program is focused on minimizing the loss of life and property and damage to the environment. The Coast Guard Auxiliary, the 35,000-person civilian volunteer arm of the Coast Guard, is a key contributor to these boating safety efforts and has augmented our missions for over 60 years.

  • Code of Federal Regulations - Recreational Boating Safety

    The United States Coast Guard presents the pertinent parts of the Code of Federal Regulations regarding recreational boating safety.

  • Compliance Guidelines - Boatbuilders

    The posted information is for manufacturers of recreational boats who must comply with the applicable regulations. Depending upon boat type, engine, length, usage, etc., a regulation (and corresponding guide) may, or may not, be applicable. While we encourage recreational boat owners to use the information for their benefit, compliance with the regulations is the responsibility of the boat manufacturers.

  • Life Jacket - Recreational Boat Law

    All recreational boats must carry one wearable lifejacket (Type I, II, III or Type V lifejacket) for each person aboard. A Type V lifejacket provides performance of either a Type I, II, or III lifejacket (as marked on its label) and must be used according to the label requirements. Any boat 16ft and longer (except canoes and kayaks) must also carry one throwable lifejacket (Type IV lifejacket).

  • National Boating Safety Advisory Council (NBSAC)

    The National Boating Safety Advisory Council (NBSAC) was established by the Federal Boat Safety Act of 1971. The law requires the Secretary of Homeland Security, and the Commandant of the Coast Guard by delegation, to consult with the Council in prescribing Federal regulations, and regarding other major boating safety matters.

  • United States Coast Guard

    The United States Coast Guard is a military, multimission, maritime service within the Department of Homeland Security and one of the nation's five armed services. Its core roles are to protect the public, the environment, and U.S. economic and security interests in any maritime region in which those interests may be at risk, including international waters and America's coasts, ports, and inland waterways.

  • US Code - Vessels and Seamen

    Shipping is a codification of the majority of the maritime safety and seamen protection laws that are administered by the Coast Guard. Presented here are the sections of Subtitle II of Title 46 of the U.S. Code pertinent to Recreational Boating Safety.

Organizations Related to Boating Accident Law

  • America's Waterway Watch (AWW)

    America's Waterway Watch (AWW), a combined effort of the Coast Guard and its Reserve and Auxiliary components, continues to grow, enlisting the active participation of those who live, work or play around America's waterfront areas. Coast Guard Reserve personnel concentrate on connecting with businesses and government agencies, while Auxiliarists focus on building AWW awareness among the recreational boating public.

  • National Boating Federation (NBF)

    Founded in 1966, the National Boating Federation (NBF) is the largest non-profit, nationwide alliance of recreational boating organizations. The Federation is composed of boating and yacht clubs and their associations representing over 2,000,000 of America's recreational boaters.

  • National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA)

    NMMA members, more than 1,400 companies, produce every conceivable product used by recreational boaters. An estimated 80 percent of marine products used in North America are produced by NMMA members. Formed in 1979 in a merger between the Boating Industry Association of Chicago (BIA) and the National Association of Engine & Boat Manufacturers of New York (NAEBM), roots of the non-profit Association can be traced to 1904 when NAEBM was founded.

  • National Safe Boating Council, Inc.

    The mission of the National Safe Boating Council, Inc., foremost coalition for the advancement and promotion of safe boating, is to enhance the safety of the recreational boating experience through education and outreach.

  • Operation Dry Water - Boating Under the Influence (BUI)

    Operation Dry Water is a national weekend of Boating Under the Influence (BUI) detection and enforcement aimed at reducing the number of alcohol and drug-related accidents and fatalities and fostering a stronger and more visible deterrent to alcohol and drug use on the water.

  • Rescue 21

    To address the limitations of the current communications system, the National Distress and Response System (NDRS), the Coast Guard has implemented a major systems acquisition program entitled Rescue 21. By harnessing global positioning and cutting-edge communications technology, Rescue 21 enables the Coast Guard to perform all missions with greater agility and efficiency. The new system will close 88 known coverage gaps in coastal areas of the United States, enhancing the safety of life at sea. The system's expanded system frequency capacity enables greater coordination with the Department of Homeland Security, as well as other federal, state and local agencies and first responders.

  • United States Power Squadrons® (USPS)

    Organized in 1914, USPS is a non profit, educational organization dedicated to making boating safer and more enjoyable by teaching classes in seamanship, navigation and related subjects. Our members are boating families who contribute to their communities by promoting safe boating through education. We enjoy participating with our fellow members on the water and in the classroom. USPS has some 45,000 members organized into 450 squadrons across the country and in some US territories. USPS is America's largest non-profit boating organization and has been honored by three US presidents for its civic contributions.

  • Vessel Safety Check Website

    The US Coast Guard and the United States Power Squadrons welcome you to this special group of pages that can result in your becoming a safer boater. Visit the "Virtual VSC" page and do a self-evaluation of your own boat, this is just between you and your boat. You may then ask for a Vessel Examiner to make contact you for an actual VSC! We will come to where you are or make an appointment at your boat location!

Publications Related to Boating Accident Law

  • Boating Safety Articles

    The U.S. Coast Guard Boating Safety Division is making the following articles available for publication inmagazines, newsletters, and club publications. Boating safety advocates may publish this material in whole or in part without charge. We only request that alluses of this material be credited "Courtesy of the United States Coast Guard" and that language not be altered without Coast Guard permission.

  • Recreational Boating Accidents and the Contribution of BUI

    The United States Coast Guard (USCG) has the legal responsibility to collect, analyze, and publish recreational boating accident data and statistical information for the fifty states, five U.S. territories, and the District of Columbia.




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