Any day on the water is a great day. Whether it’s Lake Wylie, Lake Norman, or Lake Wateree, there is no better feeling than being away from work and in your boat. As boating enthusiast, Attorney Robert J. Reeves knows the joys and the risks of being out at the lake. Unfortunately, not everyone is safe.
There is too much drinking (BUI) and “full throttle jockeys” when the lake is crowded with other boaters, personal watercrafts (PWC), sailboats, kayaks, canoes, skiers, and swimmers, including children. And, unlike cars or trucks, boats do not have airbags or seatbelts. They have no brakes and cannot stop quickly, often taking several boat lengths to come to rest. As a result, even minor boat accidents can cause serious injury or death. This is why it is so important to be always mindful of safety anytime you are on the lake.
Boating Accidents Facts
The US Coast Guard has researched boating accidents and identified some of the most common safety issues involved in boating accidents on the water:
Almost all boating accidents could be avoided if people only paid attention to their boat’s operation. It is critical that everyone onboard be looking out when the boat is in motion. You are looking out for other boats or PWCs that may suddenly come out of nowhere. You are also looking for swimmers and other objects in the water so that you do not hit them. Striking a floating log or submerged rock in shallow water can easily cause people to be ejected and seriously injured or killed.
It is easy to get excited about the upcoming summer and go buy a boat or PWC. Engines are more powerful, and boats go much faster than in the past. Before heading out to the lake, it is imperative that new boat operators get the proper training and experience to safely handle their watercraft. Only then can they ensure their own safety, the safety of their passengers, and the safety of others on the water. Remember that it takes time to fully appreciate that there are no brakes on a boat. It takes skill to master docking a boat. Don’t let the thrill of having a new boat get ahead of safety.
This problem almost goes without saying. Everyone wants to “open up” and go “full throttle.” People even add accessories like stainless steel propellers in order to get just a little more speed. However, higher speeds mean less time to react to dangerous situations. Experienced boaters know how quickly danger can come up. Engines today can easily overpower the skill set of a new boater. And at 50 mph on the water, a rogue wave can send you and your passengers airborne. Better to go at a reasonable speed and get back to the dock safely.
Just as drinking impairs drivers of motor vehicles on land, alcohol can more quickly and more seriously impair boaters on the water. Because you are in the hot sun, you tend to drink more beer or liquor. Because you are already unsteady on your feet due to the waves, you are not able to fully appreciate your rising blood alcohol level until you are truly drunk and impaired. At that point, you are clearly a real danger to yourself, your passengers, and other boaters nearby. Given the natural association between boating and drinking, it is not surprising that alcohol use is the leading contributor in fatal boating accidents.
Refueling and Fuel Vapor Dangers
Another issue not highlighted by the Coast Guard study but impressed upon me when I got my inboard Sea Ray was the specific danger of fire and explosion during refueling and fuel vapor hazards in general. Most of the time, we refuel after having been out on the lake for awhile. The engine is hot and vapors from the gas line can ignite causing serious burn injury and death. Additionally, because inboard engines are in an enclosed space, it is important to maintain and use your engine exhaust fan anytime you are not cruising at speed. Anytime you are idling or in a “no wake” zone, you should have your exhaust fan on.
One final danger is the risk of propeller injury. These injuries are almost always severe but avoidable. Outboard engines let swimmers know where the propeller is at all times. It is easy to see by the direction of the engine. Inboard engines give no such warning. The propeller is fully submerged and hidden. Swimmers should never go near the back of the boat when the engine is running, even if they are assured the propeller is not engaged. And boat operators should always have someone at the back of the boat watching for people in the water when the boat is in reverse.
What to Do After A Boating Accident
The steps to take after a boating accident are very similar to the steps one should take after a car accident. Obviously, your first priority is to get immediate medical treatment for any injuries that you, or others hurt in the accident, have sustained. Even if you think “you’re going to be alright,” you should have a medical examination to make sure there are no latent injuries. Sometimes, due to the adrenaline rush that accompanies accidents, you may have more serious injuries to your back or neck. And any type of head injury, however slight, should be fully examined before you go home. Persons who lose consciousness from a head injury should remain in the hospital overnight for observation.
If you’re involved in a boating or PWC accident, it is critical that you hire an experienced personal injury lawyer familiar with water safety and boating rules. Carefully compare the credentials of our seasoned lawyers to any other firm. Then call us at 877-374-5999 for a private consultation about your particular case. Be Safe. Get Home.