Despite the Commonwealth’s reputation for strong government regulation, boating in Massachusetts appears to function a little more like the Wild West. Anyone 16 or older can operate a boat without completing even a basic safety course, according to a recent article in the Boston Globe. This makes Massachusetts somewhat of an outlier in the region, as neighboring states Connecticut, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, and Vermont all require motorboat pilots to have a safe boating certificate.
Each year, thousands of boating accidents kill hundreds of people across the United States. In 2022, the U.S. Coast Guard counted 4,040 accidents, 2,222 non-fatal injuries, and 636 deaths. Although this marks a decrease from 2021, the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 saw a surge in boat sales and a drop in boater education, meaning many untrained boaters may still be on the water. After crashes this summer caused the death of a Boy Scout from Lexington and a teenage girl on Cape Cod, boating safety is receiving renewed attention in Massachusetts.
New Proposed Boating Safety Bill
While boating is still comparatively safer than driving, many accidents could be prevented by following a few key safety measures. Alcohol was the leading known contributing factor in fatal boating accidents (88 deaths) last year, according to the Coast Guard, but the second was operator inexperience (69 deaths). In fact, nearly three-quarters of boating fatalities (74%) happened on boats where the pilot had not received boating safety instruction.
Massachusetts lawmakers are trying to change this. A bill in the legislature aimed at reducing accidents would require boaters 12 or older to have a safety certificate or be with a certified adult. Currently, only children aged 12 to 15 are required to pass a safety course if they want to operate a boat without adult supervision, as well as 16- and 17-year-olds who want to operate a jet ski or other “personal watercraft.”
As currently written, the new safety bill would take effect in 2024 and initially apply to boaters born in 1993 or later. In 2025, the law would expand to include people born in 1985 or later. It would not apply to out-of-state visitors renting a boat in Massachusetts, or to commercial fishermen, merchant marines, or active armed forces members who are authorized to operate a vessel.
Causes of Recreational Boat Accidents
The Coast Guard identified the following as the top primary contributing factors in boating accidents in 2022:
- Operator inattention
- Operator inexperience
- Improper lookout
- Excessive speed
- Machinery failure
When it comes to fatal accidents, alcohol use was the number one contributing factor. Alcohol was listed as the leading factor in nearly 1 in 5 boating deaths (16%) in which the primary cause of the accident was known.
Massachusetts Boating Injury Lawyers
Boating accidents can be devastating, leading to property damage, severe injuries, and death. It is crucial to understand your legal rights and seek help from a skilled Massachusetts boat accident lawyer if you have been involved in a serious crash.
The experienced lawyers at Altman & Altman LLP have represented clients in various types of boat accident cases for over 50 years. We can help you pursue compensation for medical bills, lost wages, property damage, and even the wrongful death of a family member. Contact us 24/7 for a free consultation on your Massachusetts boat accident case.