Riding jet skis, wakeboarding, waterskiing, tubing, kayaking and canoeing are all great ways to enjoy spending time on the water. When weather and water conditions are favorable, and when everyone involved is committed to staying safe, all types of watersports can be relatively low-risk activities for participants of all ages and capabilities.

Yet, watersports accidents are extremely common. Why is this the case? Unfortunately, while it doesn’t take too much to stay safe, boat captains, vessel owners, tour guides and excursion operators routinely fail to take necessary precautions. This negligence leads to accidents; and, in turn, these accidents lead to serious, life-altering and in some cases life-threatening injuries.

10 Common Causes of Serious and Fatal Watersports Accidents

Here are 10 of the most common causes of watersports accidents, each accompanied by a brief explanation of how victims (and victims’ families) can assert their legal rights:

1. Boat Captain Negligence

A significant portion of all watersports accidents involve boat captain negligence. Towing wakeboarders and water skiers into dangerous wakes and other hazards, creating dangerous wakes for kayakers and canoers, and colliding with jet skiers are just a few examples of numerous boater-related factors. When negligent boat captains are responsible for watersports accidents, victims (and their families) will frequently be able to pursue claims under the boater’s liability insurance policy.

2. Tour Guide or Excursion Leader Negligence

Many people participate in watersports through guided tours and excursions. Tour and excursion companies have a legal duty to protect their customers’ safety on the water. This includes outfitting customers with safe watercraft, providing appropriate personal floatation devices (PFDs), avoiding dangerous water and weather conditions, and steering clear of known dangerous areas. Whether due to hiring unqualified guides, failing to maintain their vessels in good operating condition, or other shortcomings or mistakes, tour and excursion companies that fail to protect their customers’ safety can be held liable through claims for negligence.

3. Inadequate Training or Instruction

Tour and excursion companies, rental companies, and vessel owners can also be held liable if they provide inadequate training or instruction. For example, many people don’t know that it is only possible to steer a jet ski under power. If a rental company or jet ski owner doesn’t explain this to an inexperienced operator, then the rental company or owner may be liable in the event that the operator injures himself or herself in an accident.

4. Inadequate Vessel Maintenance

In addition to inadequate training and instruction, inadequate vessel maintenance is also a common cause of watersports accidents. This includes failure to change the oil and service the jets on personal watercraft (PWCs), failure to serve boat engines, and failure to repair cracks in kayaks and canoes. Sending customers or guests out on an unmaintained vessel can be extremely dangerous, and accident victims (and their families) will often have negligence claims in these cases as well.

5. Boating Under the Influence (BUI)

Boating under the influence (BUI) is a leading cause of all types of accidents on the water. This includes watersports accidents involving jet skis, towing sports, kayaks and canoes, and other small vessels. While boating under the influence is illegal, many boaters choose not to follow the law, and in doing so they put watersports participants in harm’s way. Even if a BUI accident leads to criminal prosecution, the victim (or the victim’s family) will need to separately pursue a civil claim for just compensation.

6. Boating While Distracted

Boating while distracted is another leading cause of watersports accidents. Whether a distracted boater towing a wakeboarder or water skier fails to notice a day marker or underwater pipeline warning, or another boater fails to notice a wakeboarder, water skier, kayaker or canoer in the water, the distracted boater can—and should—be held liable for negligence under the applicable maritime law.  

7. Boating in Shallow Water or Near Underwater Hazards

Boating in shallow water presents several risks for watersports participants. Not only can the boat run aground, but boating in shallow water also creates larger and more dangerous wakes. When participating in watersports in shallow water, there is also a risk that participants will hit the ground or an underwater hazard if they overturn or fall. In short, there is less room for error. But, while this is the case, this is not an excuse for boat captains and other operators to put watersports participants in danger.

8. Negligent Boat Operation

Along with the issues discussed above, other forms of negligent boat operation can—and frequently do—lead to watersports accidents. From getting too close to kayakers and canoers to failing to slow down in time to avoid a collision with a jet ski, all types of boating mistakes can lead to serious and fatal injuries. Unfortunately, many boaters lack the experience they need to stay safe on the water, and many do not realize that they lack this experience until it is too late.

9. Propeller Strikes (Prop Strikes)

Propeller strikes (prop strikes) often result in severe and disfiguring injuries. When operating their vessels near watersports participants, boat captains must be prepared to cut their engines immediately if a participant is at risk of getting anywhere near the boat’s propeller. While BUI and boating while distracted are common factors in prop strike accidents, many of these accidents simply result from boaters’ lack of awareness of their surroundings or basic principles of boating safety. Here, too, boaters’ liability insurance policies will typically apply; and, if a negligent boater is operating a rented or club vessel, the rental company or boat club could hold legal responsibility as well.

10. Vessel and Equipment Defects

Finally, some watersports accidents result from vessel and equipment defects. If a jet ski, wakeboard, kayak, canoe, personal floatation device (PFD), or any other type of vessel or piece of equipment is defective, the manufacturer may be fully liable for the victim’s (or the victim’s family’s) losses. In most product defect cases, proof of negligence is not required–if a defective product causes an accident, then the manufacturer is legally responsible.

Discuss Your Watersports Accident Claim with a Lawyer for Free

If you believe you may have a claim related to a watersports accident, we encourage you to speak with one of our experienced lawyers about your legal rights. Call 800-499-0551 or get in touch online to arrange a free and confidential consultation today.

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