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Wilmington Boating Accident Attorneys

Legal Help for Personal Injuries or Death Involving Boat Accident Liability

There were roughly 374,000 registered vessels in North Carolina in 2015. A total of 166 boating accidents were reported, 21 of which resulted in a fatality. The five leading causes contributing to fatal accidents were operator inattention, alcohol use, recklessness, improper lookout, and navigational infractions. Personal watercraft in the state are licensed and regulated by the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission and legislation is in accordance with the North Carolina Boating Safety Education Act.

Boating Ownership Statute

Legal responsibility is assumed to belong to the owner listed on the registered certificate and identification number. The family doctrine that is applicable in auto accident cases applies in boating accidents, where the parents may be liable for accidents stemming from operation by a minor child under their control. The doctrine says whoever purchases, provides, and maintains the vehicle may be liable for the negligence of family members who operate it. The operator must be a family member living in the family home. The owner must be responsible for purchase and maintenance, and have consented to the family member’s operation. Traditionally, in cases of civil liability, determining what constitutes owner "consent and control" is difficult based on the ambiguity of the doctrine.

Personal Injury and Wrongful Death

Federal maritime laws such as the Jones Act and Death on High Seas Act apply for accidents involving workers such as seaman, fishermen, and harbor workers, but are not applicable to private and personal boating. Private and rental boating civil liability for accident injuries or wrongful death in North Carolina is very similar to that of automobiles. Victims may recover damages from negligence; but the concept of contributory negligence applies, meaning recovery is not possible if the victim demonstrated any degree of negligence in the incident.

Boating Rules and Regulations

  • Anyone under the age of 13 must wear a life vest. Operators must be 14 years of age and all those born after January 1, 1988, must complete an approved boat education course.
  • Operation is prohibited between sunset and sunrise.
  • Those operating a watercraft towing water skiers must have either a rearview mirror or another person aboard to observe.
  • Reckless operations include weaving through boat traffic, jumping boat wakes from within 100 feet, following too closely, and horseplay such as rapidly approaching a vessel and abruptly swerving away before a collision.
  • Operation is to be at the slow “wake-speed” within 100 feet of anchored boats, docks, and swimmers, and 50 feet of controlled fishing access areas.
  • The legal limit for operators consuming alcohol is a .08% blood alcohol concentration. The state uses mobile breath testing devices.
  • Underwater divers must display a floating diver flag.
  • Minimum liability coverage of $300,000 is required for rentals. Rental companies are not required to provide instruction or education.

Accident Notification Requirements

In the event of a collision, the operator must stop and assist with safety as needed. If injury or property damage occurs, the operator must provide his or her contact information and registration number in writing. In instances of death or disappearance, the Wildlife Resource Commission must be immediately notified. A written report form must be completed in cases involving a loss of life, or property damage of over $2,000.

Insuring a Boat

Physical damage coverage for replacement is based on the boat’s Actual Cash Value, which is the replacement cost minus depreciation. Physical damage coverage also pays for repair from damage due to fire, theft, vandalism, collision, and weather events. Liability coverage pays for bodily injury and property damage caused. Medical payment coverage is for medical and funeral expenses resulting from accidents. Generally, your homeowners insurance covers personal liability and medical costs if they occur while loading or unloading the boat, or other accidents occurring while not operating in the water.

Far too many boating accidents are avoidable and are the result of an operator’s negligent or reckless actions. If you have been seriously injured in a boating accident, whether on a personal boat or a tour boat, North Carolina law allows you to seek financial compensation for your losses and hardship. At Rhine Law Firm, P.C., we have been advocating for victims of personal injury in the greater Wilmington region for over 25 years. Contact our office today at (866) 772-9960 for a complimentary consultation.

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1612 Military Cutoff Road, Suite 300
Wilmington, NC 28403
Toll Free: (866) 772-9960
Phone: (910) 772-9960
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