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Attorneys review 7 most common causes of boat accidents in MI

June 16, 2016 by Steven M. Gursten

Know how you can prevent boating crashes, injuries and stay safe in the water this summer


Attorneys discuss how boat accidents can be prevented

Although our firm name is Michigan Auto Law, you might be surprised to learn our attorneys have experience litigating serious boat accident cases. The causes of most boating accidents that injure or kill people on the water are often sadly similar to the causes of many car wrecks.

Trial attorney Tom James is developing extensive legal experience in boating accident litigation, after helping the people involved in several high profile injury cases. In one of his cases, a girl who was tubing on the lake was hit and seriously injured by a drunk boat driver at dusk on the Fourth of July. In another recent boating accident case, two fisherman in a competition were racing back to the dock and collided. The first boat skimmed the second boat and went on top of the fisherman, causing life-threatening injuries.

With the summer holidays nearly upon us (Fourth of July is a particularly dangerous time to be on the water and with the all of the people drinking and partying), today our attorneys want to share some of the common causes of boat accidents from our own cases in Michigan. We will also review who can operate a boat under Michigan law and what’s required by law for safe operation of a watercraft.

Understanding these causes can help keep you safe on Michigan’s beautiful lakes and waterways.

  1. Boat driver error: Boat driver error is the cause of the majority of boating wrecks.
  2. Inexperience: There are many boat drivers who are unprepared to deal with an emergency on the water, handle equipment malfunction, or drive through inclement weather (See below for the laws on training for Michigan boat drivers).
  3. Drunk and drugged driving: Drinking is common among the boating culture. But boat drivers are subject to the same drinking and driving rules as motorists. Boating under the influence is against the law in Michigan. The legal blood alcohol concentration (BAC) limit is .08 percent or above. If a boat operator has a BAC over the legal limit, he or she may be charged with “BUI.”
  4. Distracted boat driving: You can actually get cell phone service on the water. And boat drivers are spending more time with their noses in their cell phones, texting and surfing the Internet, rather than paying attention to the water. They can easily veer off course, crashing into another watercrasft, the shore or fail to notice red flags that can put them and their passengers in peril.
  5. Faulty equipment: A boat that’s suddenly out of control because of faulty equipment can lead to a dangerous crash.
  6. Crowded waterways: As traffic can congest the highways and roads, it can also crowd the waterways and cause boat accidents. Different activities and a wide range of water crafters, from sailboats, canoes, fishing boats and motorboats toting water skiers, tubers and wake boarders; are often a recipe for disaster.
  7. Speeding: Yes, even boats have speed limits in Michigan. It’s illegal to operate your vessel at speeds above 55 mile per hour, unless  you’re one mile offshore on the Great Lakes or Lake St. Clair. Just as speeds kill on the roads, high-speed boat crashes are more serious. In addition, “Slow, No Wake Speed” as reported by The Handbook of Michigan Boating Laws and Responsibilities is, “the slowest speed at which it is still possible to maintain steering and which does not create a wake.”

Who can operate a boat in Michigan and what training is required?

Please stay safe on the water this summer.

This is especially imperative since boaters over 12 years of age do not have to have any training. According to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources:

  • Those born on or after July 1, 1996, may operate a boat legally only if they have been issued a boating safety certificate and have it on board the boat.
  • Those born before July 1, 1996, may operate a boat legally without restrictions.

Our attorneys strongly encourage Michigan boat drivers to take the state class and earn their boating safety certificates.

Related info:

What happens if I’m rear-ended while hauling a jet ski or boat?

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