MIAMI, Florida– This past Sunday, a pleasure boat collided into a Washington State ferryboat. The report is that the operator of the pleasure boat was below deck at the time, and that is the likely reason the ferry was not observed by the operator of the pleasure boat. Fortunately, there was no significant damages to either vessel, or to any person. The ferryboat was cleared to continue with its operation without any shutdown.
A collision between two vessels on navigable waters triggers the application of maritime law, and there are very special laws that apply to collisions at sea. Typically, when two vessels collide, the doctrine of comparative negligence will apply where each vessel will be assigned a percentage of fault in the collision. In this case fault will likely fall on the operator of the smaller vessel who should have maintained a proper lookout and gotten out of the way.
However, often times in a boating collision case involving two vessels, both vessels are found to be at fault, and a percentage of fault is allocated to each. Had there been any personal injuries, the more likely party at fault would be the operator of the pleasure boat, who by reports was not keeping a proper lookout. The case would be governed by general maritime law since it involves a collision of vessels on navigable waterways. The test is whether there is a significant relationship to traditional maritime activity and if the incident has a potential to disrupt maritime commerce. A collision at sea like this is a clear example of admiralty jurisdiction.
Of course, a very basic rule of the road on the waterways is that vessels must maintain and keep a proper lookout for other vessels. In fact, a majority of boating accidents involve collisions between two boats or a boat and a ferry as we saw in this case, with almost 5,000 boating accidents occurring in the United States each year.
Unfortunately, Florida is the state with the most number of boating accidents, including the number of fatalities, where boating is one of its major recreational activities. According to statistics, the failure to keep a proper lookout was actually the number one cause of Florida’s boating accidents, leading to 178 accidents in just 2015.
Clearly without the proper lookout, a boat has the potential to be a dangerous vehicle. As there are rules we must follow on the road there are maritime rules to follow on the water. However, it seems people do not take as much caution as they should while out on the water. Additionally, many boaters are inexperienced.
Again, in this case it was fortunate that there are no personal injuries that have been reported. However, as statistics show, that is not always the case. Changes need to be made on the water, which includes enforcing more rules on the water. People, like the operator on this pleasure boat in Washington State, need to take navigating on the water more seriously, which includes paying attention and keeping a proper lookout. With proper precautions, boating can be a safe activity for everyone on the water.