Boating Accident Attorneys in Montgomery, AL
Alabama has plentiful bodies of water to enjoy boating. From 170 miles bordering the Chattahoochee River with Georgia; sharing the Perdido River with Florida; the Tennessee River with Mississippi; 50 miles of Gulf Coast shoreline and beaches; and one million acres of lakes; there are plenty of opportunities to take to the water for a stress-free day in the sun.
But don’t let your guard down. There is a flip side to boating that happens when negligent operators are not using their common sense. These accidents can result in life-altering injuries and even death. Unfortunately, with an increasing number of boats on the water, the number of deaths on Alabama waters is increasing.
Some of the more recent deaths include:
- A mother and her five-year-old daughter who died in a Wilson Lake crash
- A Georgia man colliding with his teenage daughter on jet skis. He died; she lost her right leg
- A mother was killed when she was struck by an overhanging tree in the Alabama River
Operator error causes the majority of boating accidents. It is illegal to operate a vessel in a manner that endangers the public. Whether a collision, or a single boat accident, all of these were avoidable deaths.
With more than 200,000 registered boaters in Alabama, you cannot assume everyone takes boating safety seriously. Drinking and boating, a popular pastime, makes boating less safe, especially when everyone is doing it.
At the same time there has been a decline in the presence of Marine Patrol on rivers and lakes in Alabama. This is an obvious cost saving measure that has cost lives.
Alabama Boating Safety
Know the rules of boating before you embark:
- Mandatory Licensing – Before a mandatory operator license was put into effect, the state saw even higher numbers of crashes and deaths on the water. The license requires a boat operator to be 12 or 13 to obtain an Alabama boater safety certification and they can operate a boat only if supervised by someone onboard at least 21 years of age. A 14-year-old can operate a motorized vessel for up to 45 days without an operator license. It may not sound like much but Marine Patrol says it has reduced the number of deaths from crashes on the water. If you are involved in a collision on the water and the damage is $50 or more, it must be reported.
- Avoid Drinking and Boating – Just like driving a motorized vehicle, alcohol and boating do not mix. When both boat operators are intoxicated, we see boats colliding in the open water. Alabama’s open container law does not apply to a vessel on the water, other than the individual must be 21 years of age or older and remain under the level of intoxication. Nationally, at least half of all boating accidents involve alcohol, estimates the U.S. Coast Guard.
Legally, like drunk driving, the DUI level is 0.08 percent blood alcohol content or BAC. In Alabama, fines include $2,100 if you are found Boating Under the Influence or BUI. You also face the possibility of jail time. A third violation means you lose your boat operating license for up to three years and face a fine up to $10,000. Refuse a sobriety test and you lose your license automatically. If there is a child under the age of 14 on board, punishments are doubled.
Designate someone a designated driver who is not intoxicated if you want to have alcohol on board.
- Distracted Boating – Pay attention to the task of driving the boat and not finding your cellphone, texting, and turning to talk to your passengers.
- Alabama PDF Requirements – Every person on board your vessel must have a wearable personal flotation device (PDF). It doesn’t matter whether the vessel is a boat, a personal watercraft (a Jet ski), kayak, canoe, or inflatable raft. This includes children, even those under the age of 8, while they are onboard. The exception might be if they are below deck or in an enclosed cabin.
- The Rules of Boating – It is against the law to allow anyone to ride on the bow or the deck over the bow while underway unless there are adequate guards or railing to prevent the person from falling overboard. Some of the boating deaths resulted from individuals being thrown from the boat when it hit a tree or another vessel. You are required to follow the speed limits, avoid boating too close to another vessel, avoid areas where people may be diving and avoid creating a wake. Avoid the water if a storm is approaching and remember that a sailboat can conduct lightening through the mast. You must keep a first aid kit onboard in case of emergencies on the water. At night, navigation lights must be in good working order and you are required to operate at a slower speed.
Tips for Avoiding a Boating Accident in Alabama
Alabama has a dubious safety record when it comes to boating. In 2019, the state saw the highest number of boating accidents in more than 30 years. The Independent Day holiday alone saw 12 crashes and six fatalities.
The Coast Guard finds Alabama was ranked fourth in the nation for boating accidents and injuries in 2019. With more than 200,000 boats registered in Alabama, you can bet some operators are not making safety a priority.
There must be a PFD or personal flotation device on board for every person. Kids under the age of 12 are always required to wear their PFD in a moving vessel. Even the pet should have on a PFD. It is not necessary to wear a PFD inside the cabin or sleeping space.
Wear your life jacket requires 13 or younger to wear one, but everyone should have a jacket. Inflatable PFDs are not approved as a life-saving substitute.
Anyone water skiing must wear a PFD. However, operation Dry Water reports 86% of those who drowned in a recreational boating accident were not wearing a life jacket.
In case of a person overboard, you should have on board a throwable flotation device (Type IV) that you can toss to an individual in the water. It can be a donut or a cushion, something for someone to hand onto as you pull them closer to the boat and out of the water.
Other safety tips include:
- Check the weather and condition before heading out through the National Weather Service
- Equip the boat with an engine cut-off switch if the driver falls out.
- Take a boating safety course, which are offered all over the country and for all ages.
- Top off the fuel tanks before departing the dock.
- In case of an emergency, carry a portable or fixed horn.
- Always carry a medical kit for cuts, scrapes, or seasickness.
- Carry a bucket so you can bail out water and oars if you have to paddle. A knife is handy if you have to cut a line around a propeller.
- A snorkel mask allows you to see something under the boat.
- A VHF radio allows you to call for help.
- Carry a fire extinguisher onboard. Boats under 26 feet are required to have at least one B-1 type extinguisher.
- A visual distress signal can come in the form of flares or nighttime signals.
- Avoid speeding. There are no seat belts on board, unlike an automobile.
Your Alabama Boating Accident Lawyer
It is understandable that boater fatigue can affect everyone on the boat. The gentle rocking on the water, sun, wind, and some beer, and you may not realize the effects of alcohol. The same holds true for water skiing, wakeboarding, or tubing while intoxicated. You will be asked to take a field sobriety test including reciting the alphabet, counting backward, a breath test, and others.
That is why it is so important to learn the tough lessons so many have faced on the water.
If you have been injured in a boating accident in Alabama, Chip Nix offers a complimentary consultation to discuss your injuries and the factors that will point to the at-fault party. He will seek compensation for your losses including pain and suffering, medical bills, the cost of rehabilitation, and lost wages. He will document your claim and investigate and gather the necessary evidence to make your claim.
Please do not have a conversation with the insurance company for the other side until you speak with an experienced attorney. The initial offer is generally for far too low, and it is geared toward making you go away. Call Chip Nix at 334-203-6669 to begin the conversation.