The gorgeous coastline along North Carolina and Virginia is a local treasure. Access to our inter-coastal waterways are crucial to the region’s tourism and fishing economy and setting out on the water can provide countless hours of recreation to locals and visitors alike. But anyone who reads the local news knows that these waterways, and thus our local economy, are constantly in danger as a result of shoaling and the inability of funding and dredging efforts to keep up with the shifting sands. Some inlets, such as the Oregon Inlet, face closure as a result of the shoaling and the dangers that it presents.
Shoaling presents more than just a risk to the economy, however. It can be a dangerous hazard to all boats out on the water, and can result in injuries and death to the passengers on those boats when they run aground or capsize. In fact, the North Carolina (NC) Sector of the Coast Guard specifically identifies shoaling as a hazard for boaters in our area. The constantly and rapidly changing shoaling conditions along our coastline increase the potential for boats to capsize and run aground. And when a boat accident of that type does happen, the risks for both property damage and personal injury can be great.
Depending on the boats speed and the type of shoal, the actual moment of running aground can be similar to a collision, tossing passengers on the boat around and even presenting the risk of falling overboard. The injuries suffered when this happens can be severe and devestating. Imagine standing unrestrained below deck when a boat runs aground and being tossed across the cabin. This exact scenario has happened to someone that I know, and he is still recovering from his injuries. Of course, there will also likely be damage to the boat, which could cause water to leak in and even raise the possibility of the boat sinking. It is also possible that running aground could cause a gas leak or result in other vital instrument failure. Depending on the boat’s location, the tides, and surrounding water depth, running into a shoal may mean being stranded on the shoal. If your boat has been severely damaged, this may present bodily risks to the passengers aboard.
While long term solutions to the shoaling problem along our coastline are necessary, in the meantime, all operators of boats — private and charter — need to be alert to the safety issues that shoaling presents. Safely navigating the shoals requires strong knowledge of the local conditions and being observant to changing conditions. And of course, all boats should be prepared — with both knowledge and equipment — for how to handle running aground.
About the Editors: The Shapiro, Cooper, Lewis & Appleton personal injury law firm, which has offices in Virginia (VA) and North Carolina (NC), edits the injury law blogs Virginia Beach Injuryboard, Norfolk Injuryboard and Northeast North Carolina Injuryboard as a pro bono service.