Finger Lakes Personal Injury Lawyer Compares New York boating laws with New York automobile law, and New York Boating Accidents to New York Automobile Accidents

Summer is fast approaching in New York’s beautiful Finger Lakes area.  And boating is a great way to enjoy the area safely during this coronavirus era. As far as I know, the virus cannot be transmitted through lake water, and as long as you are on your boat with household members, you don’t have to worry about those pesky little masks or that annoying six-foot social distancing rule.  Whether you live in Syracuse, Rochester, Buffalo, Albany, Ithaca, or any place in between, boating is a great way to get out and enjoy the treasures of our Central New York way of life!

But please do so safely, and legally.  To help you out, I have prepared a chart comparing New York’s automobile laws to its boating laws.  After that, I will discuss the differences between boating accidents and car accidents that I have discovered after nearly three decades of litigating both boating accident cases and car accident cases throughout New York State.

New York Boating Law Compared

to New York Automobile Law

Automobiles Motorized Boats
Liability for Accidents Negligent driver liable, but so too is the vehicle’s owner (“vicariously”).  See, Vehicle & Traffic Law section 388) Negligent operator liable, but not owner except in Nassau and Suffolk County waters. See, Navigation Law section 48.
Insurance Requirements Minimum liability insurance is $25,000 per injured person and $50,000 per accident. Specific boating insurance not required (but recommended). Most homeowners’ insurance policies will cover boating liability.
Registration requirements Must be registered with the DMV.  See Vehicle & Traffic Law 401. Must also be registered with the DMV.
“Rules of the Road” v. “Rules of the Waterways” Must follow New York Vehicle & Traffic Law (speed limits, traffic lights, stop signs, yielding rules, etc.) Must follow nautical rules found in New York’s Navigation Law regarding sound signaling when vessels are approaching each other, right-of-way (starboard has right of way), etc.
Age and Licensing restrictions Must be at least 16 to get driver’s permit.  Must pass road test to get license.  “Junior licenses” restrict driving to daytime and limit the number of passengers. Must be at least 14 years old.  As of January 1, 2020, phase-in-by-age law requires a new age group to become certified to operate motorized vessels each year by taking and passing an (online if you wish) safety course.  Right now, only operators born in 1993 or thereafter must carry a New York boater card. By 2025 all boaters, regardless of age, will need the course certification.
Alcohol Rules Under Vehicle & Traffic Law 1192-1199, a driver is guilty of DWAI (a violation, not a crime) if driver registers more than a .05 BAC but less than a .07. BAC, or other evidence of impairment. DWI, a misdemeanor, is .08% BAC or above.  But there are two types of DWI:  “per se” based only on BAC (0.08% or more) and a “common law” DWI based upon officer’s observations, field sobriety testing, and other evidence of intoxication. Under Navigation Law section 49-a, basically same as for automobile driving, but called “BWI” (Boating while intoxicated).  Same penalties, too, (could include jail time, steep fines, or lengthy driver’s license revocation.)    But boat operator is  in danger of losing (suspension) only her boating certificate, not driver’s license.
Most Common Causes of Accidents Driver inattention, weather conditions, speeding, failure to yield when left-turning or at stop sign, alcohol use. Operator inattention, lack of experience, failure to keep proper lookout, alcohol use, propeller contact with person, falling overboard and drowning
Security Devices Required Seatbelts required in front seat for all, and in back seat only for those under 16 years old (complimented by car seats or booster seats depending on height and age) No seatbelts, but one approved flotation device required for each passenger. It need not be actually worn except from November 1 to May 1, or if the boater is on a “pwc” (personal water craft, e.g., jet ski) . However,  all persons under 12 years old must wear their flotation device at all times in the boat. For more specifics, see New York flotation device requirements.


New York Boating Accidents Compared

to New York Car Accidents

I’ve been a New York boating accident lawyer for almost 30 years.  I’ve also been a New York car accident lawyer for the same amount of time.  In my experience representing victims of automobile accidents as well as boating accidents, there are some key differences in how these accidents unfold.

There are more inexperienced boaters than inexperienced motor vehicle drivers.  And many of those inexperienced boaters  believe that operating a boat is like driving a car.  They are wrong.  Stopping, for example, takes 10 or 20 times longer (depending on speed) in a boat.  Keeping a proper lookout in a boat requires a much wider scope of view.  Docking a boat is far more complicated and “tricky” than parking a car.  Pedestrians are much easier to spot than swimmers. So I attribute more boating accidents to inexperience than car accidents.  The latter are usually caused by just plain carelessness.

I have seen many cases of boaters being ejected from the boat and torn up by the boat propeller.  By contrast, I have never had a case of a car passenger being ejected and run over by the same car.

Many of my boating accident cases involve intoxicated operators whereas very few of my car accident cases involve intoxicated drivers.  There are two reasons for this:  Many boaters don’t understand that the BWI (boating while intoxicated) laws are JUST AS STRICT and the penalties just as severe as the DWI laws for driving cars.  Second, boaters are almost always out for a good time, relaxing on a weekend or holiday when they are likely to want to down a few cold ones, whereas automobile drivers are usually not out for fun or entertainment but rather to get from point A to point B.  Thus, I attribute more boating accidents than car accidents to intoxication.

Boating accidents sometimes involve drowning, but car accidents almost never (Ted Kennedy’s Chappaquiddick incident notwithstanding).  In a boat crash, no one is “restrained” by a seatbelt.  Boaters get tossed overboard, sometimes after hitting their head or other body part on a part of the boat.  They then plummet into the water where they can drown, especially if, like many boaters, they are not wearing their flotation device.

The injuries are different in boating accidents compared to car accidents.  In car crashes, the injuries almost always consist of trauma from contact with the doors, steering wheel, dashboard or other interior pars of the car.  With boating accidents, the injuries are often caused by ejection, drowning and getting cut up by the propeller.

One thing car accidents and boat accidents in New York have in common:  They require a skilled and experienced car or boating accident attorney to get proper compensation.

Have fun boating, but keep safe!  And call me if (god forbid) you need me.

Mike Bersani

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Finger Lakes NY Boating Accident Lawyers
Michaels Bersani Kalabanka

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