Sacramento Boat Accident Lawyer


Water sports activities and boating are both adrenaline-pumping and fraught with unique dangers. There is always the risk of drowning. When a boating or water-related accident occurs, a complete evaluation and investigation into the cause by an experienced boat accident lawyer in Sacramento is the best way to proceed.

Complex safety and legal issues may be involved. Like other types of accidents, legal and factual issues should be thoroughly investigated, considered, and resolved.

If you or a family member has been seriously injured in a boat accident in the Sacramento area, we can help answer your questions and advise you on what steps you can take to protect your legal rights. Call our Sacramento boat accident lawyers at 916.921.6400 for a free, no-obligation consultation.

How a Lawyer Can Help with a Boating Accident Injury Claim

Personal injury claims arising out of a boating accident often include challenging technical and legal matters. Such cases should be handled by an experienced Sacramento boat accident lawyer to ensure negligent parties and entities are held financially accountable for boating-related injuries and damages. Some of the issues that should be considered in a boat accident claim include.

  • What was the specific activity being performed?
  • When and where was it being performed?
  • What were the circumstances of the accident?
  • Was it age-appropriate for the person involved?
  • Was the activity adequately supervised?
  • Was the activity private in nature, or was it business-related?
  • Was the activity part of a commercial rental business?
  • Were the boat operators trained in CPR?
  • Was safety equipment available?
  • Can medical personnel be immediately notified in case of injury?
  • Was there any special equipment being used?
  • Was the equipment properly maintained, or was it unsafe?
  • Was the equipment subject to any recalls or falls under defective product status?
  • Did the injured person sign a waiver or release of liability before participating in the activity?
  • Were they competent to do so?
  • How long did the injured person wait before pursuing their claim?
  • Were there any witnesses to the accident?
  • Were any photos or videos taken of the accident?
  • Did government authorities investigate the accident?
California - A Lot of Boating, A Lot of Boating Accidents

In California, boating and jet skiing are year-round activities, and approximately 1,000,000 California watercraft are registered.  As a result, the Golden State has a high rate of boating accidents compared to the rest of the country. Hundreds are injured in boat accidents every year.  Dozens sustain fatal injuries. An experienced California boating accident lawyer could help you or your family recover monetary compensation if you were injured while boating.

Types of Boating Accidents

Our legal team at understands how traumatic a serious boating crash can be. Some of the types of California boating accidents with which we can help include:

  • Boating Under the Influence: Boating while drunk causes many crashes throughout the country, and California is no exception to that unfortunate fact.  If it is determined through evidence such as police reports, criminal charges, toxicology reports, and witness statements, we will assist you in recovering economic damages, which in some cases involving drunk boating could include additional punitive damages.
  • Boating Accidents Caused by Speeding: Operating a boat at excessive speeds can make the vessel more difficult to control.  It also increases the likelihood of occupant injury or death in the event of a crash.  Accident reconstruction experts can provide evidence that excessive speed contributed to your injuries.
  • Equipment Problems: If negligent manufacturing or design of the boat or a boat part caused or contributed to the boating accident, our attorneys work with experts who can identify the responsible parties and testify as to the dangerous equipment that played in the crash.
  • Ejection from the Boat: Many times in a boating crash, passengers are ejected from the vessel.  This can result in devastating and disabling injuries, including but not limited to brain injuries or broken bones.
  • Capsizing:  When a boat capsizes, it overturns in water.  Capsizing is one of the most common causes of boating injuries in California.  It can lead to severe and sometimes fatal injuries.  
  • Propeller Injuries: Propellers can cause significant lacerations and have even resulted in amputations.  Propellers can contact the head and face, which can result in traumatic brain injuries, facial lacerations, and scarring of the face. Often propeller injuries are caused by negligence on the part of the boat operator.
  • Boating Regulations Violated: California has strict regulations as to who can operate watercraft and where it can be operated, as well as laws about the safe operation of the watercraft itself.  Deviation from these regulations can result in injuries.  It is also against the law.
  • Boating Accidents - Other Causes:  Other common boating injury scenarios include crashes with other boats and slip-and-fall accidents on deck.  Negligence can still be a factor even if the boating operator was not breaking the law.  An experienced California boating accident lawyer can help you determine if there are grounds for an injury claim.  

In addition to boating accidents of all kinds, our office handles injury claims involving personal watercrafts such as jet skis and wave runners.  

Boating Accident Reports

California law requires that watercraft operators report boating accidents.  The reports must include names, contact information, and vessel registration numbers for all parties and watercraft involved in the accident and anyone who provided assistance to an injured person.  Additionally, the boat owner or operator is required to complete a written report to the California Department of Boating and Waterways if the incident resulted in any of the following:

  • The disappearance or death of a person;
  • An injury that requires medical attention beyond first aid; or
  • More than $5000 in property damage to all vessels or other property involved.

When injuries or death are involved, the report must be filed within 48 hours of the incident.  If the incident resulted in property damage only, the report must be filed within 10 days of the accident.

California Boating Laws

State laws governing the maintenance and operation of watercraft apply to owners and operators. California law prohibits the operation of watercraft negligently or recklessly that could endanger another person or their property.  Among other things, the law prohibits boating through an area used by swimmers.  It also prohibits the operation of a vessel erratically or in such a manner that requires the vessel to cut speed or abruptly swerve to avoid a collision. 

California law also has boating speed limits.  Operators are prohibited from traveling at an improper speed - meaning faster than prudent and reasonable based on traffic, visibility, weather conditions, or other hazards.  Passengers are prohibited from riding on the bow or gunwale or anywhere else that presents a risk of falling overboard.  The law prohibits the operation of a boat with unsafe conditions, including having an inadequate supply of fire extinguishers or life jackets, a fuel leak, not displaying navigation lights, excessive accumulation of water in the bilge, and inadequate ventilation.

Federal Boating Laws

In 1971, Congress passed the Federal Boat Safety Act, which gave the U.S. Coast Guard the duty of establishing safety equipment standards for watercraft. Federal law states that vessels must be equipped with Coast Guard approved safety devices, including flame arresters, visual distress signals, gas ventilation devices, fire extinguishers, and sound alert devices.  Federal law also gives specifics about the life jackets or personal floatation devices required for every person aboard the vessel.

What Is a Boating Injury?

Injuries that occur with or on a boat are considered boating accidents. This type of accident can happen on a cruise ship, jet ski, ferry, or someone’s privately owned yacht. The general rule is that the boat operator and its owner have a duty to exercise care to prevent injuries to others.

Don't forget, non-motorized boating accidents occur as well. This includes sailing, canoeing, kayaking, rowboats, and inflatables such as rafting. Changing water or weather conditions, cold water, underwater debris can all point to disaster.  Also, non-motorized vessels have reduced visibility due to a lower profile in the water.  This often makes them a target for larger, motorized boats.

Besides interaction with motorized vessels, often, in a non-motorized boating accident, it results from an unsafe vessel, overcrowding, lack of life jackets, and lack of experience.

Other Types of Boating Accidents and Incidents

The American Boating Association – an organization that promotes safe boating – publishes statistics that show a total of 2,559 injuries and 613 deaths from 4,168 boating accidents reported to the U.S. Coast Guard in 2019.  Although boating and other water sports can certainly be delightful activities, this highlights the potential dangers of boating, especially when property precautions and care are not observed.

Water Skiing Accidents

When we see someone water skiing, our focus is usually on the water skier zipping along and back and forth through the water. But in actuality, water skiing is a three-person sport:  the skier, the boat operator, and the observer. Therefore, all three need to take care of their part of the activity to avoid accidents and injuries.

Common injuries seen in water skiing include lower leg and ankle sprains, strains, and fractures because the skis are firmly attached to the feet, and when things go wrong, significant stresses are placed on these body parts.  Other common injuries include shoulder injuries from being jerked by tow ropes and concussions from suddenly hitting the water.

Towed and Tubing Accidents

Being towed on a water tube or other inflatable device behind a boat has the same dangers and preventive measures as water skiing.  Unlike water skiing, however, not all water tubes are made to be pulled behind a boat – make sure that your floatable device is actually intended to be towed.

Inspect your equipment and ensure that the water tube, top rope, and attachment points are all in good condition.  Certainly, make sure that your life jackets are the right type for tubing and in good condition.

Propeller Injuries

The Coast Guard estimates that about 250 people are injured, and about 25 people are killed each year after being hit by boat propellers.  This can occur when people are intentionally in the water – water skiers and wakeboarders, for example – when people accidentally fall overboard in proximity to the propeller. 

Although we might imagine that propeller injuries are typically laceration and cutting injuries, most propellers are not sharp enough to cause cuts. Rather, most propeller injuries are blunt force trauma that can produce fractures, head injuries, or internal damage depending on the part of the body struck.

Among the best ways to protect against propeller injuries, maintain a careful lookout for people in the water, ensuring that everyone is securely seating before applying engine power, and using an automatic engine cut-off switch when boating alone.

Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) note that carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning can be a significant danger for boaters, especially when moving at a slow speed or idling.  Boat engines produce carbon monoxide along with other exhaust fumes, but although the other fumes may be easy to notice, carbon monoxide is colorless and odorless.  For a boat with an enclosed cabin, a CO detector is advised. Still, even open-cockpit boats can have CO gas drift into the passenger area and accumulate near the engine exhaust and anyone nearby in the water.

Proper engine and exhaust system installation and maintenance is certainly key to avoiding carbon monoxide problems.  Also important is to encourage boaters (especially children) to sit and play away from where the engine exhaust is vented at the rear of the boat, including anyone who may be in the water near the rear of the boat.

Life Jacket Problems

Obviously, the biggest potential problem with life jackets is simply not having one.

The Coast Guard has general requirements that apply to all recreational boating in the country.  This includes the basic rule of one life jacket per person that is:

  • The right size for the user. (Especially important for children.)
  • Right for the planned activity. (There are specially designed jackets for water skiing, towing/tubing, and personal watercraft use.)
  • In good, serviceable condition.
  • Coast Guard approved.

In California, the law specifically requires that children under 13 years of age wear an appropriate jacket at most times.  But the best time to wear a life jacket -- for both children and adults -- is all the time when around the water.

Most Frequent Causes of Boating Accidents and Incidents

Any of these unexpected incidents can suddenly put boaters in danger of injury, but every one of them also has simple preventive actions available to reduce risk:

  • Running Out of Fuel: Unexpectedly, running out of gas can not only be embarrassing but dangerous as well. Being unable to maneuver can result in running aground, not steer away from other boats, and not maintaining position. In addition, having to be towed or manually refueling while on the water are both hazardous activities.
  • Grounding: Running aground on a shallow lake or riverbed may be as simple as getting stuck on soft sand or mud, or it may be as complicated as putting a hole in the hull from hitting rocks or underwater debris.
  • Falling Overboard: If you are boating alone, hopefully, you had yourself attached to an engine cut-off switch, or you may end up watching your boat motor off on its own while leaving you behind in the water. Unexpectedly falling overboard can also stun if the person in the water is hit at speed.  
  • Fire: Fire is a danger on any motor-powered watercraft. Keeping an eye out for a fuel slick around the boat or in the bilge water can help prevent fire and keeping a nose out for fuel fumes.  Having a properly-rated fire extinguisher onboard is certainly a good idea.
  • Sinking: Whether due to hull damage from running aground or leaky seals around propeller shafts and other hull openings, finding oneself "going down with the ship" in open water is certainly a dangerous situation. Hopefully, everyone had life jackets available.
  • Mechanical or Electrical Failure: Having an engine die while on the open water is just as dangerous as running out of fuel but can be countered by proper preventive maintenance. Electrical problems can also present danger, especially if boating at night when a lack of functioning boat light may make your craft essentially invisible.
  • Keeping a Lookout: Watching for other boaters, nearby shorelines, shallow bottom, and floating debris is obviously important when your watercraft is moving, and you are responsible for properly piloting it. It's also important when your boat isn't under power because currents may be moving it anyway. Other nearby boaters who are inattentive can be cautioned with a well-timed horn blast or warning shout.
  • Lack of Proper Safety Equipment: Have enough life jackets to go around and have them sized properly -- an adult-size life jacket can actually be dangerous for a child to wear. Depending on the conditions and type of boat, you have other simple equipment that can help out in an emergency, like flares, a canoe paddle, or even a light anchor.
  • Drinking: By this point in time, we all recognize that drinking and driving is a bad idea. Unfortunately, drinking and boating is just as bad an idea. For all the same reasons, intoxication impairs a boat operator’s ability to observe and perceive dangers, react in a timely fashion, and generally safely operate a watercraft.  Although the specific laws on drunk boating compared to drunk driving may vary from state to state, it's also illegal in many instances. 

The following video features some of the top boating accidents and crashes.

Boat Accident Lawyers in Sacramento County, CA

If you or a loved one has suffered an injury after a boating crash in Sacramento, you need an experienced lawyer to represent your best interests. Call our law firm at (916) 921-6400 or (800) 404-5400 for free, friendly legal advice.

We are members of the Million Dollar Advocates Forum and the National Association of Distinguished Counsel.

See our case history of verdicts and settlements and our client reviews on GoogleYelp, and AVVO.

Editor’s Note: This page has been updated for accuracy and relevancy [cha 6.23.21]

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