Yes, you read that caption right. This personal injury lawyer wants FEWER boating accident cases. Not because I don’t enjoy representing those injured through negligent boating (I do), but because I want there to be fewer accidents altogether. I have enough personal injury cases. I don’t need more and would prefer fewer cases if it meant fewer people were being injured and killed in boating accidents.
And I think I know a way to make boating much safer, and to avoid accidents. Here me out!
But before you hear me out, here’s a little background. I just became a first-time boat owner. Not that I am new to boats. I grew up around motor boats and sail boats (on Skaneateles Lake) and have been using my brothers’ motor boats for many years. I have boated on Cayuga Lake, Owasco Lake and Seneca Lake.
But honestly, I don’t like boating that much. I do it for the kids. I guess that makes me a “land-lubber”. On a hot, nice summer day, I’d rather hang out on the shore where I can have a few beers and not worry about my alcohol blood count. Some folks might think having a beer or two while boating is ok. I don’t. Neither does New York boating law, which has the same alcohol-blood-level rules as for driving a car.
As a boating accident lawyer, I have seen too many terrible accidents – almost all of which involved alcohol – to feel at all comfortable with imbibing – even a little – while operating a boat. Example: we had a case where our client lost a leg to a boat prop. Yes, we got her a seven-figure recovery after a few years of litigation, but would you take a few million dollars in exchange for one of your legs? I think not.
After seeing and litigating boat accidents, I have come to the conclusion that the two main culprits are (1) alcohol and (2) lack of training/experience with boats. I have already discussed number (1). As for (2), folks think that if you can drive a car you can drive a boat. Not so, at least not safely. Boats are not cars on water. You can’t “put on the brakes”. “Stopping” is a process, not a single act. Changing directions is also slower. A car turns from the front wheels, but a boat from the back prop. This makes steering very tricky for those used to car-driving, especially in narrow spaces.
Experienced boaters know to factor in water currents and winds when approaching a dock to park a boat, and they know how to use “reverse” to act as a kind of brake. Inexperienced boaters don’t and often collide with docks or other stationary objects.
Boats don’t have seat belts, which makes it more likely for boaters (as compared to car occupants) to be ejected. When they are ejected, they can hit their heads on their way overboard where they can drown or get run over by the prop.
And what about avoiding other boats? There are no stop signs, no traffic lights out there. Experienced boaters know that “right has right of way”, but many casual boaters have no clue.
And boating at night? Even experienced boaters usually won’t venture out after dark unless they have a good reason. Why not? Your boat has no “headlights” to light up the water, so you are moving across a pitch-black surface which might harbor invisible hazards.
In short, driving a car does not prepare you for operating a boat.
So here’s my proposal to make boating safer in New York State: In my humble opinion, no one should be allowed to operate a boat without a boating license. I say this even though it runs against my own financial interest. A boating license requirement in New York would ensure that all boaters get at least basic training and this in turn would mean far fewer accidents and thus far fewer mangled bodies or grieving family members walking (or rolling) through my law office doors. Which is fine with me. Fortunately, or actually unfortunately, I have plenty of personal injury cases to work on. And if this world ever becomes perfectly safe, and there are no more personal injury victims, I’ll just switch to real estate transactions and estate planning work.
Currently, New York State, unlike other States, does not require a boating “license”. Instead New York requires only a boating “safety certificate” (obtained after completing a boating safety classroom course, with no actual required boating practice) and only for those born on or after May 1, 1996. Anyone born before that date doesn’t need even the certificate to operate a boat. You can operate the boat if you are 14 or older and have the certificate. (Hit this link for a more complete set of New York boating laws.)
There should be a required license for all boaters, and to get it they should be required to demonstrate their boating skills in a real boat. Just like when you get an automobile license.
So there, now you’ve heard my rant. I don’t expect a change in law anytime soon, so in the meantime, be safe in your boat. And if you are (God forbid) the victim of a boating accident, don’t hesitate to reach out to me for a free consultation.
Email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org I’d love to hear from you!
Syracuse NY Boating Accident Lawyers
Michaels & Smolak, P.C.