Preventing boating accidents in California

California’s beautiful weather invites outdoor activities like boating, prompting people to be especially vigilant on the water.

The California State Parks Division of Boating and Waterways reports that last year, there were 503 boating accidents across the state. Those incidents led to 232 injuries and, worse, 49 fatalities. Many of these events may have been prevented through a little more responsibility and awareness of state and federal laws.

Why do these accidents occur?

According to the DBW, colliding with another vessel was the cause of more accidents than any other factor, often due to the inattention of the boat operator. Inexperience and speed also played a role in a large number of these incidents.

Does alcohol play a role?

Yes. On a national and local level, alcohol can be a factor in these devastating events. The U.S. Coast Guard states that when someone operating a boat has a blood alcohol concentration of higher than 0.10, he or she is more than 10 times as likely to die in a fatal incident when compared to boat drivers who are sober.

The reason behind this is that alcohol affects cognitive abilities to think quickly and avoid disaster as well as the physical capability to react. Vision and balance - which may already be at a disadvantage on the water - are also impaired when alcohol has been consumed.

Am I required to have life jackets on board?

The California DWB points out that anyone younger than 13 is required to wear a life jacket that is Coast Guard-approved at all times. Everyone aboard vessels that are less than 16 feet long must wear a life jacket. For larger vessels, there must be a life jacket on board for every passenger.

What can I do to be safe on the water?

In addition to wearing and carrying life jackets, people enjoying boating activities should do the following to avoid a serious injury:

  • Avoid excessive alcohol consumption, whether driving the boat or not
  • Check the weather before leaving
  • Ensure people on board know how to swim

Additionally, anyone who operates a boat should have taken a boating course. Even people who are veterans can benefit from these classes, which can update participants on state and federal laws and teach boating safety. Though California does not require people to take this course, it is a good idea for anyone who wishes to ensure safety.

How do I know a boat is safe?

Anyone who owns a boat can take advantage of a vessel safety check from the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary. This can provide the owner with a list of items that will bring the vessel into safety requirements, as the Coast Guard will check on life jackets, lights, ventilation and fire extinguishers, to name a few.

Boating accidents are often an unfortunate result of negligence, improper planning and irresponsible behavior. People who have questions about this topic should speak to a personal injury attorney in California.