Avoiding Boating Accidents and Injuries

 In Louisiana Car Wrecks
Photo: courtesy U.S. Coast Guard

Boating is a popular recreation throughout Acadiana, but if the boat operator is not careful, it can create the potential for injury.  “Operating a boat is very much like driving a car,” says Lafayette Personal Injury Attorney Joseph Joy.   “Boat operators need to follow the rules of the road on the water because Louisiana’s Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LWF) will hold them accountable,” Joy insists.

According to LWF, there were 20 reported boating fatalities in 2018. There have been 5 reported fatalities so far this year. If you or a loved one has lost someone, or experienced  personal injury on the water, call the law office of Joseph Joy and Associates. You will want to have a legal advocate on your side.

This year has been a cautious time for recreational boating because water levels all over South Louisiana are at record levels since January, caused by unusually high snow melt, and a long rainy season in the northern states upstream. As our surrounding waterways become more swollen, it increases the potential for boating accidents resulting in personal injuries.

In a news release, the Coast Guard encouraged boaters to take extra precautions and “to understand the risks associated with high water and strong currents… higher than average water levels create very strong and swift currents, which result in large amounts of debris, and can lead to dangerous situations on the Mississippi River. The stronger than normal currents can create rips and eddies in places where they might not have been before, which can pull a boat or a person into a dangerous situation very quickly.”

As always, the safest way to avoid injury is to keep away from hazardous conditions.  First and foremost, if you do find yourself on the water, make sure you’re out there legally. For anyone born after January 1, 1984, boating safety courses are required. You can find a free class on the The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries page here.

Even after you’re certified, it’s important follow the regulations for safe boating enforced by The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries to avoid injury, as well as follow the rules of the road for water vessels:

http://www.wlf.louisiana.gov/boating/rules-road-vessels .  The rules are also copied below.

To operate a boat safely, it’s important to have a responsible operator of the vehicle and enough personal flotation devices for every passenger on board. Children 16 and under must wear a flotation device at all times on vessels under 26 feet in length. Be certain that flotation devices for small children fit well, and fasten them through the legs, so that they remain safe even in turbulent water.

We hear a lot about penalties for driving while intoxicated but the same serious penalties are imposed  for boating while intoxicated.  The laws are the same for nautical vehicles as they are on the highway. A driver’s blood alcohol level may not exceed .08, and operating a boat while intoxicated may result in your boating license, as well as your driver’s license being revoked.

“In our forty years of practicing personal injury law in Louisiana, more often than not we find that boating accidents are the result of the boat operator not paying attention and very often alcohol is the cause,” Attorney Joseph Joy insists.   “Boat operators need to be careful and adhere to our state’s driving while intoxicated laws. Louisiana enforcement officials carry breathalyzers. If  wildlife officials or a policeman sees empty bottles of beer in a boat, the odds are the operator is going to have to undertake a breathalyzer test,” Joy says.

In addition, Joseph Joy advises boat operators pulling a skier to have a third person on board to act as a lookout or spotter.  “For example, if you pulling a skier you need a spotter who can keep an eye on the skier and communicate with the boat operator.  The operator of the boat needs to keep his eyes on the waterway and be on the lookout for other boaters.  And,  with all this high water, the chances of submerged obstructions are increased. So be careful this summer on the water,” Joy said.

Know the rules of the road. When boating, operators should keep to their respective right side when passing head-on, for example. If you or a loved one are  involved in a boating accident with significant injury, it is important to investigate and determine who is at fault.

Rules of the Road for Vessels

A. The following regulations shall dictate the operation of vessels upon the waters of the state and shall set forth a standard of operation. In construing and complying with these rules, due regard shall be had to all dangers of navigation and collision and to any special circumstances, including the limitations of the vessels involved, which may make a departure from the Rules necessary to avoid immediate danger.

B. Any violation of the Rules of the Road as referred to in this section shall be prima-facie evidence of careless or reckless operation.

C. Boating accidents caused by deviation from the Rules of the Road shall be documented as such in accident reports.

D. The Rules of the Road for vessels upon the waters in the state shall be as follows:

Vessels passing head-on shall each keep to their respective right.

A vessel overtaking another vessel may do so on either side, but must grant the right-of-way to the vessel being overtaken.

When vessels are passing at right angles, the vessel on the left will yield right-of-way to vessel on the right.

Motorboats shall yield right-of-way to non-motor powered boats except as follows:
a. When being overtaken by non-powered vessels.
b. For deep draft vessels that have to remain in narrow channels.
c. When vessel is towing another vessel.

Motorboats must maintain a direct course when passing sailboats.

A vessel approaching a landing dock or pier shall yield the right-of-way to any departing vessel.

A vessel departing shoreline or tributary shall yield right-of-way to through traffic and vessels approaching shoreline or tributary.

Vessels will not abruptly change course without first determining that it can be safely done without risk of collision with another vessel.

If an operator fails to fully comprehend the course of an approaching vessel he must slow down immediately to a speed barely sufficient for steerageway until the other vessel has passed.

Vessels yielding right-of-way shall reduce speed, stop, reverse, or alter course to avoid collision. Vessel with right-of-way shall hold course and speed. If there is danger of collision, all vessels will slow down, stop, or reverse until danger is averted.

Vessels will issue warning signals in fog or weather conditions that restrict visibility.

No mechanically propelled vessel shall be operated so as to traverse a course around any other vessel underway or any person swimming.

In a narrow channel, vessels will keep to the right of mid-channel.

Vessels approaching or passing another vessel shall be operated in such manner and at such a rate of speed as will not create a hazardous wash or wake.

No vessel shall obstruct or interfere with take-off, landing, or taxiing of aircraft.

All vessels shall be operated at reasonable speeds for given conditions and situations and must be under the complete control of the operator at all times.

No person shall, under any circumstances, operate a vessel in excess of an established speed or wake zone.

No vessel or person shall obstruct or block a navigation channel, entrance to channel, mooring slip, landing dock, launching ramp, pier or tributary.

Vessels shall keep at least 100 feet clearance of displayed diver’s flag.

Operator shall maintain a proper lookout.

See R.S. 34:851.27A

PFDs AND CHILDREN – Children 16 or younger must wear a properly sized and fitted PFD when the boat is underway on all vessels less than 26 feet in length. Smaller children should have a PFD that has ample upper body flotation and a crotch strap, proper fitting is critical.

DWI – Boat operators who are driving while intoxicated (DWI) with a blood alcohol content of .08 and higher face the same penalties as someone operating a vehicle on the highway.  Penalties include the suspension or revocation of boating privileges and driver’s license. A designated sober operator is a must for both the roadway and waterway.

At Joseph Joy and Associates, we can help you determine who’s at fault, and help you bring a lawsuit against the negligent party’s insurance company. Compensation might be owed for your vessel, your health, and any suffering you may have endured. personal injury due to someone else’s negligence, it’s important to seek the advice of a professional. Call (337) 232-8123 to reach Joseph Joy and Associates.

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