How quickly a relaxing afternoon on the water can go bad when an accident happens and your boat is damaged or somebody is injured. In Minnesota and Wisconsin combined, boating accidents increased 25% from 2014 to 2015, according to the U.S. Coast Guard, due to more crowded waterways and other factors. Each year, hundreds of lives are lost, thousands are injured and millions of dollars of property damage occurs because of preventable boating accidents.
One of the best boating safety resources available is the Coast Guard’s safety page. You can also access the Coast Guard’s mobile app from the app store for iPhone or Android to find boating regulations and information for your area, file a float plan, receive the latest weather reports in your area, contact the closest Coast Guard command center with an emergency assistance button, request a vessel safety check and do other safety-related tasks.
Errors account for 70% of boating accidents. At the very least, boaters should know the basics about the following before launching their vessels:
- Filing a float plan. It often makes sense to file a float plan because there are too many facts that need to be accurately remembered and ultimately conveyed in an emergency situation. You can quickly file a float plan with your cell phone if you use the Coast Guard’s mobile app.
- Boating under the influence (BUI). The risk is high and the consequences severe if you drive a boat after having too much to drink. The penalties for BUI can include large fines, revocation of operator privileges and serious jail terms. If you want to make alcohol part of your day’s entertainment, consider choosing a location where you’ll have time between the fun and getting back into your car or boat.
- Vessel safety check. A vessel safety check, which is available from the Coast Guard, can help you navigate through problem situations. There is no charge and no consequences if your boat doesn’t pass. The Coast Guard can typically perform the check wherever your boat is located. Fill out their brief form to schedule a safety check.
- Life jacket safety. Accidents happen with terrifying speed on the water and there’s rarely time to reach stowed life jackets. Your boat must have a life jacket for each person aboard, and boats 16 feet and over must have at least one throwable device as well.
- Carbon monoxide. You can’t see or smell carbon monoxide, and it can make you sick in seconds inside or outside your boat. This exhaust gas can be trapped in enclosed places, by blocked exhaust outlets, from a boat docked next to yours and from back drafting at slow speeds while idling or stopped. Be sure to maintain fresh air circulation throughout the boat at all times.
Documenting and reporting an accident
Boating accidents, as with auto accidents, should be reported to the authorities right away so an investigation can be conducted. The exact circumstances that require a filed report vary from state to state. The Coast Guard’s boating safety app can help you familiarize yourself with the local regulations where you are boating so that you know when to contact authorities. Also, be sure to notify your insurance consultant in a timely manner.
You should document the damage by taking photos of it with a smartphone or camera. If your boat has struck another vessel, also document the damage to the other vessel, and remember to obtain the other party’s contact and insurance information and hull identification number.
Make sure you’re covered
If you’re new to boating, you may be under the impression that your homeowners insurance will cover your boat. Unfortunately, in most cases it won’t. Many homeowners policies will have a minimal amount of coverage for small boats with either no engine or a small engine. If you’re buying a boat that exceeds these very limited parameters, your homeowners policy is not going to cover you for what you need.
Like auto insurance, boat coverage typically includes coverage for bodily injury that your boat inflicts on others, property damage your boat inflicts on docks and other boats, and physical damage to your boat should you hit something or run aground. You can also purchase comprehensive coverage against theft, vandalism, fire and flood, personal property coverage for your fishing gear, uninsured boater insurance and even roadside assistance in the event you need a tow.
Unlike a standard auto policy, insurance claims for your boat can be complex, so it’s important to include your insurance consultant at the earliest stage of the claim.