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Know the Rules for Boating, Insurance & Water Safety

There are so many ways that people enjoy spending time on the water. From venturing out onto the lake with a speed boat and jet skis or rushing down whitewater rapids in a raft, there’s something for everyone. We all know that it’s far too easy to let your guard down when you’re having fun, but recreational water activities have the potential to be even more dangerous than those on land. While some accidents may be unavoidable, being vigilant with safety can save lives if the worst should happen.

In this blog, we will investigate the dangers of recreational boating, explore the causes behind some recent recreational boating accidents, and share some ways to stay safe on the water.

11 Rescued From Sinking Vessel in Point Pleasant Canal

As summer came to a close in Ocean County, New Jersey, a group of 11 passengers aboard a 21-foot vessel needed to be rescued after their boat took on several large waves over its bow. As their boat took on water, the group was left to fend for themselves in the canal until New Jersey State Police troopers arrived to help. Fortunately, no injuries were reported, according to local news.

The Point Pleasant canal can be challenging to navigate, especially with its strong and sometimes swift currents. Inexperienced boaters in smaller vessels may not be prepared for the dangers, putting them and their passengers at risk.

“We would like to remind everyone to wear their personal flotation devices while on the water,” police recommended.

Tragic Boat Capsizing in Hudson River Kills 2

On a Tuesday afternoon in July 2022, 13 people aboard a 27-foot private boat were enjoying some time on the Hudson River when the wake from a passing ferry caused the boat to rock dangerously and finally capsize. Fortunately, 2 nearby ferries were able to help 9 of the 13 people get to safety. 3 others were taken to a nearby hospital, but 2 passengers, including a 7-year-old child, tragically drowned. Local news reported on the incident.

This shocking accident was unforeseen, but could it have been prevented? Even in the most still waters, precautions - like wearing life jackets - must be taken. And the Hudson River is far from still.

“It’s a clear reminder to us… the water is an enjoyable part of New York, but it can be a dangerous place,” said Mayor Eric Adams at a press conference after the incident.

Memorial Day Weekend Boat Accidents

Over Memorial Day weekend at the end of May 2022, several fun outings turned deadly. Holiday weekends such as this are among the most dangerous times to venture out on the water, considering how many inexperienced operators rent boats. In fact, according to NBC News, recreational boating deaths are on the rise; more people died due to boating accidents in 2020 than in any year since 2001.

In Richmond, Virginia, 12 people went over a dam in the James River, falling approximately 12 feet into the waters below. Civilians assisted authorities in the recovery effort; 2 of the victims were still missing days later.

At Lake Pueblo in Colorado, a boat carrying 13 passengers, including 8 children, capsized. 11 were hospitalized for conditions including hypothermia, and 1 body was recovered from the water.

The Coast Guard made a daring rescue on the Wilmington River in Georgia after a head-on boat crash near Savannah killed 5 and left 4 in critical condition. One of the boaters was charged with boating under the influence in the wake of the crash.

What Insurance Is Required For Recreational Boats?

Like car insurance, recreational boat insurance is not required in every state, but it is highly recommended. In fact, only two states have boat insurance laws: Arkansas and Utah. On the other hand, many marinas require owners to carry at least some insurance in order to store a boat at or even use their facility. This may even be the case at state-operated marinas. Banks, too, will need to see proof of coverage if you take out a loan for your boat.

It is commonly recommended that the following types of boats have insurance coverage:

  • Large sailboats

  • Yachts

  • Jet boats

  • Motorboats

  • Personal watercraft

You may not need insurance, however, if you’re operating a canoe or a boat worth less than $1,000.

A Maritime Mobile Service Identity (MMSI) number may be required for vessels that meet the following criteria:

  • Used for recreation only

  • Do not visit foreign ports

  • Not required to carry a radio

The Federal Communication Commission (FCC) and the United States Coast Guard does not require these boats to be licensed, but should the operator need an MMSI, BoatUS is an authorized provider. Any vessels that do not meet these criteria must file for an MMSI number with the FCC after acquiring an FCC Registration Number (FRN).

What Equipment Is Required for Recreational Boats?

The United States Coast Guard mandates safety regulations for many vessels, including recreational boats of all sizes.

The minimum requirements for small recreational vessels are:

  • Horn, or another sound-producing instrument

  • Visual distress signals, like flares

  • Navigation lights

  • Accessible and throwable flotation devices

  • Coast Guard-approved personal flotation devices (PFD) for everyone on board

  • Backfire flame arrestors

  • Marine Type - USCG Approved fire extinguishers, which must not be older than 12 years

As of April 2021, a new law went into effect that requires operators of boats with an installed Engine Cut-Off Switch (ECOS) to use an ECOS link, which is typically attached to the driver or their clothing in some way on one end and the cut-off switch on the other. This preventative rule aims to protect the occupants of the boat and those around it by forcing an engine shutdown should the operator be ejected from the vessel. This law applies to “all navigable waters of the US” and “covered recreational vessels,” which includes any motorized boat that boasts at least 3 horsepower and is less than 26 feet long.

What Should I Do If I Am in a Boating Accident?

One of the most important things you can do to prevent a boating accident is to prioritize preparation - not only should the operator of the boat be educated and avoid boating under the influence, but the boat should have every piece of safety equipment that the Coast Guard recommends. However, even the most prepared boaters may find themselves in dangerous situations. In the event of a recreational boating accident, the operator is required by federal law to file a report with the state reporting authority.

You must file a boat accident report if:

  • A person dies

  • A person is injured badly enough to require medical treatment (past first aid)

  • A person goes missing, and it is presumed they are injured or dead

  • Damage to property crosses a certain threshold, often $2,000

  • The boat is destroyed

These reports help the United States Coast Guard set safety standards and maintain the effectiveness of boating safety programs, including the ongoing education of boaters. This information can go a long way toward making our waterways safer for everyone.

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