Given the popularity of watercraft-based recreation activities in California, it should not come as a surprise that the state has strict laws and regulations to ensure everyone’s safety on the water. This includes rules about operating a boat, safety equipment, and what to do in case of a boating accident.
Knowing what to do after an accident can make a world of difference, not just for the injured but for you as well. Whether you are steering the boat or just along for the ride, your actions could affect who is held responsible for the accident.
What Should a Boat Operator Do in the Event of an Accident in California?
Under California Harbors and Navigation Code Section 656, if you were operating a boat and it crashed into another boat, person, or object, you have a legal duty to stop and help anyone who is hurt – but only if you can do so without putting yourself or others in danger.
Check if anyone is injured and call 911 or signal for emergency assistance immediately. While you are waiting for help to arrive, try to administer basic first aid if you know how. That said, do not move anyone who appears to be seriously injured unless it is absolutely necessary for their safety.
There is a “Good Samaritan Rule” that comes into play. It dictates that if you help someone in good faith, you will not be held liable for any civil damages. You would not get sued for trying to help, as long as you act like any reasonable person would in the same situation. If you are a public employee performing a rescue, no one can file a lawsuit against you unless you have done something really wrong, such as acting with malice or ignoring safety.
The law is also very clear that you have to report the accident to the authorities. You will need to notify the California State Parks Division of Boating and Waterways (DBW) by filling out a “Boating Accident Report” (BAR) form. You can find this form online on the DBW website or get it from any local law enforcement agency.
If the accident resulted in a disappearance, death, or injury that needs medical attention beyond first aid, you must submit this form within 48 hours. You should also contact the local police, the sheriff’s office, or the U.S. Coast Guard about the same. For accidents involving property damage exceeding $500 or less severe injuries, you have 10 days to file the BAR form with the DBW.
If the accident occurs in federal waters, you will also need to report it to the U.S. Coast Guard. Make sure to always keep copies of whatever reports and forms you file for your records. Just like in a car accident, you need to exchange information – names, boat identification, and insurance details – with the other parties involved.
What Happens When You Ignore the Call for Help
Under federal law (46 U.S. Code § 2304), the person in charge of the boat under U.S. jurisdiction must “render assistance to anyone found at sea in danger of being lost,” as long as it does not put their watercraft or passengers at risk. This law is part of an international treaty and extends the obligation to mariners worldwide.
California’s Harbors and Navigation Code Section 656 says much the same thing. It does not matter who caused the accident or even if you were “involved” in it in any way. If you are anywhere near the incident in question or the injured victims, the law applies to you.
What if you just ignore it all and go on your merry way? It will be considered illegal under both federal and state law. Failing to “render assistance” could result in federal criminal penalties in the form of fines up to $1,000 and/or jail time of up to two years. California law also includes the possibility of up to six months in jail.
Beyond the legal duties, there is an unwritten “Custom of the Sea” that calls for mariners to help each other. Anyone who spends time on the water understands that roles could easily be reversed, and next time, you might be the one needing help.
How Can a Boat Accident Lawyer Help?
Given all the potential legal ramifications of this situation, consulting an attorney experienced in California boating laws can be extremely helpful. You know you have to tell the authorities about what happened, but how exactly do you go about it? A lawyer can help you figure out what evidence to collect (pictures and witness testimonies) so your rights are protected throughout the process.
They can also file the Boating Accident Report on your behalf. One mistake on this form and you could end up facing fines or get charged with a crime, especially if the form does not reach the right authorities on time.
Your lawyer will go over it with a fine-tooth comb, making sure everything is correct. They will also talk to the police for you, so your side of the story gets heard and the official accident report is accurate.
If your boat was damaged in the accident, your attorneys for injury claims will handle the tough talks with the insurance company so your claim is not denied. If things take a turn for the worse, i.e., there is a chance you could be facing a lawsuit, it might be difficult to get through it without a skilled lawyer.
Schedule Your No-Obligation, Free Consultation Today
When you own a boat, you have certain responsibilities toward other boat operators and passengers while on the water. This is especially true in case the unexpected happens or someone gets injured and your help can make all the difference. If you or someone you love was injured in a boat accident, the experienced boat accident lawyers at Roberts | Jeandron Law can prove the liability of the negligent parties and get you the maximum compensation you deserve. To schedule your free consultation, call us at (949) 238-1598 or send us a message online.