Boating Accidents and Water Accidents
Altizer Law, P.C., represents those who have been injured due to a boating accident caused by the wrongful conduct of another person.
Just like the highway, there are rules and laws that govern the use of our waterways. We have wonderful and beautiful lakes and waterways nearby – Smith Mountain Lake, Roanoke River, Dan River, New River, Claytor Lake, Lake Moomaw, James River, Holston Lake, Philpott Lake, Maury River, Jackson River, Craig Creek, and Smith River — just to name a few.
Pursuant to 50 CFR 17.102 [Title 50 — Wildlife and Fisheries, Chapter I — United States Fish and Wildlife Service, Department of The Interior], the term water vehicle, watercraft, and vessel include, but are not limited to, “boats _whether powered by engine, wind, or other means_, ships _whether powered by engine, wind, or other means_, barges, surfboards, personal watercraft, water skis, or any other device or mechanism the primary or an incidental purpose of which is locomotion on, or across, or underneath the surface of the water.”
The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (“VDGIF”) formulates regulations regarding the use of our waterways. Boats must be titled and registered just like cars and trucks are.
Certain safety equipment is required under most circumstances including life jackets, fire extinguishers for certain boats, sound producing devices, and navigation lights.
In 2007, the Virginia General Assembly established educational requirements for ALL personal watercraft operators. The VDGIF provides boating safety courses, which are free. If you own and operate a jet-ski, then you must take this class. Please refer to the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries website for more information on boating education.
Just like driving a car, driving a boat carries great responsibility for the safety of the operator, his or her passengers, and others using the waterway. The operator of a watercraft is responsible for knowing and obeying the rules of the waterway including all navigational and safety rules and laws. There are regulations, safety rules, and laws that we must follow when operating a watercraft. Here are some basic examples.
Examples of Boating Unlawful Acts:
- You may not operate a watercraft while under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
- You may not operate a watercraft in a reckless manner.
- You have to have your paperwork in order – the boat must be registered and the Certificate of Number must be onboard, up to date, and accurate.
- You must have adequate lighting on your watercraft and must exhibit such lighting between sunset and dawn.
- You must obey regulatory water markers.
- You may not motorboat and/or water ski in an area designated for swimming.
- You may not tow a water skier who is not wearing a USCG approved life jacket and without an observer onboard.
- You may not snorkel or scuba dive in an area where motorboats travel without displaying a flag.
- You may not speed in a “no wake” zone.
- You must reduce your speed to avoid endangering persons and/or property by the effect of a wake when approaching or passing other boats and vessels.
- Operators of vessels must practice good seamanship, keep a proper lookout and maintain a safe speed.
If there is a Boating Accident
A formal written report is required when there is damage of over $2000 to the watercraft and/or when there is injury requiring medical attention beyond First Aid, and when a person disappears on board a watercraft. Please refer to http://www.dgif.virginia.gov/forms/boatingaccidentreport.pdf for more information on filing a report.
Drinking and Driving a Boat
These laws are very similar to our Highway DUI laws. If your blood alcohol concentration is .08 percent or more by weight, by volume, you are intoxicated under Virginia law. Implied consent law is also applicable to boating – you agree to submit to a breath and/or blood test to determine the amount of alcohol and/or drugs in your blood. If you refuse unreasonably, more than likely you will lose your operator’s license.
This goes without saying, but the best and safest practice, of course, is NEVER drink alcohol and then operate a watercraft of any sort, even if it is not motorized.
Virginia has a Zero Tolerance Law when it comes to drinking alcohol under the age of 21. Complicating the offense by driving a watercraft when that under-age person is drinking alcohol is very serious.