As a finger lakes boat accident lawyer and boating enthusiast, I try to keep up on boating law developments. Well, there’s a big development coming down the pipes: A bill is sitting on the Governor’s desk that will require all owners and operators of motorized boats (including jet skis) to take a NY State certified boating safety course. The current law says that only those born after May 1, 1996 have to take the boating safety course.
When the proposed new law says “all” operators and owners of boats, it really does mean all, no matter how old, no matter how long they have owned or operated a boat. Are you 93 and been boating for 73 of those years? You still would have to take the course! The new proposed law is called “Brianna’s Law” in honor of Brianna Lieneck, an 11-year-old victim of a boating accident. Most legal experts think the Governor will sign the bill. If so, it will take effect on January 1, 2020. The good news is that the course can be taken online, though it can also be taken in a classroom setting.
Are we at Michaels & Smolak in favor of Brianna’s Law? YES! Our lawyers have represented too many Finger Lakes boating accident victims injured by boat operators who just don’t understand boating safety. The course takes only a half a day and if that can save a life, we’re all for it.
Why can’t New York State just give a boating license to anyone who has a driver’s license? After all, isn’t operating a boat EASIER than a car, since there are no traffic signs, lanes of travel, one-way streets, slippery roads, curves to watch out for, etc?
Yes and no. It’s not that operating a boat is harder, it’s that if you try to operate a boat with the same instincts and habits you have gained from years on the road, you will endanger your own life and others’. You have to develop new habits.
So what kind of new habits do you have to learn for operating a boat? One of the very first things you have to learn is to put an eye patch on and shout out “ahoy matey” when other boats pass by. Just kidding. You have to learn the New York State boating rules. Reader’s Digest version: Operate at a prudent speed, always keep a proper lookout, never drink and drive, never overload your watercraft, always have enough flotation devices, and right has right of way (yield to boats to your “starboard”).
Now here are the most common types of boating accidents and how to avoid them. And believe me, as a boat accident attorney serving the Finger Lakes boating community, I have seen plenty of all of them:
- Crashing into another vessel
The Finger Lakes are not very crowded waterways, compared to, for example, the Hudson River in Manhattan, so running into another boat in the Finger Lakes is very avoidable. Nevertheless about 12% of boating accidents involve two vessels colliding. The injuries involved when this happens are usually quite severe. That’s why two-vessel collisions account for 70% of all reported boating injuries. And what caused those collisions? Either one or both operators WERE NOT LOOKING OUT. You have to constantly be scanning the panoramic view as you operate a boat. Look left, look right, look straight ahead. Repeat. You get the idea. AND YIELD TO STARBOARD!
- Crashing into fixed object
If hitting a moving target seems too hard to do, try hitting a stationary one. It’s easy! All you have to do is NOT pay attention, NOT look, be drunk, or be distracted. Some of the fixed objects you might hit are really not that visible, unless you are paying attention: rocks, posts, piers. Approximately 11% of boating accidents involve crashes into fixed objects.
Shallow waters are not always visible. Sometimes they are marked, sometimes not. Approximately 9% of boating accidents involve grounding. The best way to avoid this type of accident is to know your waters, look for markers, and approach the shore ever so carefully while looking at the depth.
Got a hole in your boat? Got caught in a huge storm? You might get SWAMPED! Your boat might go under. News alert: As captain, you are NOT required to “go down with the ship”! And you won’t go under, unless you failed to follow the law by bringing enough flotation devices for everyone. In that case, you might drown, which is the main injury suffered in swamping cases.
Stay safe on the waters everyone. Safe boating is no accident. And watch out for that new law that will likely go into effect next year. Yes, you will likely have to take that damn boating safety course!
And if you are unlucky enough to get injured because someone else didn’t know how to safely operate a boat, contact our Finger Lakes boat accident lawyers, or me personally.