California Boating Accidents

Recreational boating accidents aren’t uncommon. In 2017, more than 4,200 boat accidents were reported to the United States Coast Guard. 658 of those accidents were fatal, while another 2,600 caused bodily injuries. When you are injured in a boating accident and someone else is to blame you have the right to ask for compensation. Filing a personal injury lawsuit can allow you to recover much-needed compensation for medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering.

Here’s what you need to know about boating accidents and personal injury claims in California.

What Causes Boating Accidents?

Boating accidents can happen for many reasons. However, certain boating accident causes are reported more frequently than others.

Inexperienced Operator

Boats are complicated pieces of equipment that must be handled by a knowledgeable and experienced driver. For years, it has been fairly easy for inexperienced and unqualified people to operate a boat in California. In fact, until recently, the state had no boater education requirements. New laws require boaters to take a boater-safety education course before they can hit the open waters.

The new laws are important because inexperienced operators are responsible for a large percentage of boating accidents. Inexperienced boaters may not know how to navigate the vessel safely or handle unexpected and severe weather conditions.


Anyone who operates a boat has an obligation to do so safely. Boaters not only have to look out for the safety of their passengers, but also for others in and on the water. Accidents are likely to happen when boat operators become negligent. Negligent conduct may include:

  • Speeding
  • Riding too close to shore
  • Riding too close to other vessels
  • Riding too close to swimmers
  • Texting and boating, or
  • Failure to pay attention.

Boating Under the Influence

It’s illegal to operate a boat while under the influence of drugs or alcohol in California. Boating while intoxicated increases the risk of a serious accident. Operators are less likely to have the capacity to control the vessel, see hazards in the water, avoid other crafts, and adapt to changing circumstances.

Defective Equipment

Sometimes boating accidents happen even when vessel operators do everything right. Some of these accidents can be caused by defective boating or safety equipment. Companies that manufacture products, including boats and safety equipment, have an obligation to make sure those products are safe for consumer use. When a product is defective and causes an injury, those companies can be liable for damages.

What Are the Most Common Boating Accident Injuries?

Boating accidents can be particularly devastating. Statistics show that the most common boating accident injuries include:

  • Drowning
  • Cardiac arrest
  • Blunt force trauma
  • Hypothermia
  • Traumatic brain injury
  • Soft tissue injury
  • Burn injury
  • Broken bones
  • Spinal cord injury
  • Paralysis
  • Amputation, and
  • Wrongful death.

It is important to seek medical attention immediately if you have been involved in a boating accident.

What Damages Can I Recover If I File a Boating Accident Lawsuit?

The main reason you’ve decided to file a lawsuit is probably to recover money from the person who is responsible for your boating accident and injuries. In California, boating accident victims can seek both economic and non-economic damages.

What Are Economic Damages?

Economic damages help to put you back in the financial position you would have been in if you had never been injured. In other words, economic damages compensate for financial costs you experience as a result of the accident or injury. Common examples include:

  • Hospitalization
  • Surgery
  • Other medical bills
  • Rehabilitation
  • Lost wages
  • Disability, and
  • Property damage.

You can recover economic damages for actual costs you have today, as well as for costs you can reasonably anticipate having in the future. It’s important to identify how your boating accident injury may affect you down the line.

What Are Non-Economic Damages?

Boating accident injuries won’t just be financial. You’ll also probably experience debilitating physical, emotional, and social injuries, as well. Non-economic damages can help to compensate for these personal injuries. Common examples include:

  • Pain and suffering
  • Anxiety and depression
  • Emotional distress
  • Embarrassment
  • Disfigurement
  • Loss of consortium, and
  • Loss of enjoyment of life.

Since these injuries are so intimate they can be very difficult to value in terms of money. It’s important to work with experts who can identify the full extent of your non-economic injuries and place an accurate value on your suffering.

How Can I Prevent Boating Accidents and Injuries?

Many boating accidents are avoidable. You can reduce the chances of being involved in a boating accident by keeping a few simple tips in mind.

Here’s how to stay safe and prevent injury when using a boat:

  • Only ride on a boat operated by an experienced and credentialed operator
  • Make sure boats are properly maintained and inspected before use
  • Avoid alcohol and drug use before and during boating excursions
  • Always wear a life jacket, or know where safety devices are located on the vessel
  • Avoid boating excursions in bad weather, and
  • Remain cautious and aware of other vessels and swimmers in the water.

Boating can be fun. It can also be dangerous if operators don’t exercise an appropriate level of caution and care. Always speak with an attorney if you are injured in a boating accident. You may be entitled to compensation that can cover medical costs, disability, and even emotional trauma. For more information, see our guide on finding a good personal injury lawyer in Calfornia.