The U.S. Coast Guard’s Boating Safety Division reports that boating operator errors account for 70% of boating accidents. Operator error includes excessive speed or speeding, inattention to surroundings and equipment, failure to follow recreational boating rules and accepted practices, use of alcohol, inexperience, and reckless behavior. Boat insurance coverage provides protection for legal liability due to an accident resulting from the ownership, maintenance, or use of your watercraft, including bodily injury, property damage, and legal defense. However, insurance will not shield you completely from liability in every circumstance. Boating accidents are not limited to collisions, but include other instances where someone is killed, injured, or disappears while boating. The United States Coast Guard defines a "boating accident" as one of three possible scenarios:
1. A boat passenger dies or becomes seriously injured;
2. A boat passenger disappears and death or injury is suspected; or
3. A vessel causes or sustains damage.
It is important to note that "[p]ersons who cause a boating accident may incur civil liability, criminal liability, or both. Victims of a boating accident may sue another boater for property damage, medical expenses, and other losses they have incurred as a result of the incident. Additionally, the state may bring criminal charges against a boater if the driver caused an accident while intoxicated or operated their vessel recklessly or with gross negligence."
To help reduce these types of errors, the North Carolina Boating law addresses safety equipment, lighting, speed limits, reckless operation, alcohol and drugs. As stated in the North Carolina Vessel Operator’s Guide, "[t]he North Carolina Boating law applies to all public waters within the territorial limits of the state, to the marginal sea adjacent to the State and to the high seas when navigated as a part of a journey or ride to or from the shore of this State. This includes all streams, rivers, lakes and sounds within or bordering the State, but it does not include private ponds…Vessels operating on waters subject to the jurisdiction of the United States are subject to Federal Boating laws as well as State laws."
In addition to registration and titling requirements, North Carolina boating laws regulate safety equipment, reckless and negligent operation, speed limits, operating under the influence, and mandatory education and age requirements. Since May 1, 2010, any person under the age of 26 must successfully complete a National Association of State Boating Law Administrators ("NASBLA") approved boating education course before operating any vessel propelled by a motor of 10 horsepower or greater on public waters in North Carolina. While it is too early to verify, this requirement is a positive step towards reducing operator error. Hopefully, by increasing the education requirement, the State of North Carolina will see a noticeable reduction in both operator error and boating accidents in the waterways of the State.
Interestingly, North Carolina is the state with the fourth highest boating rates. The other states in that group of most boaters are much bigger, like Florida and California. Coastal Carolina and the Outer Banks provide great options for enjoying the water. Please do so safely!