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May 3, 2018

Sailboats, motorboats, rafts, pontoons and catamarans all grace the Arizona’s many waterways and lakes. But boating is not just popular in Arizona; it’s also a favorite national pastime. In 2008 there were 12,692,892 boats registered in the United States. With so many boats afloat in American waters, the United States Coast Guard expects all watercraft operators to adhere to particular rules and regulations.

But sometimes operators of watercraft are negligent, and their negligence results in serious injury, even fatalities. In 2008, boating ac cidents resulted in 54 million dollars worth of property damage. Collisions with other vessels, by far the most common type of boating accident, accounted for 1,237 incidents. More seriously, however, is the fact that 3,331 injuries and 709 deaths resulted from these accidents. The most common types of watercraft involved in past boating accidents were open motorboats (43 percent), personal watercraft (23 percent), and cabin motorboats (15 percent).

The causes of these boating accidents were mainly attributable to the following factors:

  •  Excessive speed
  •  Machinery failure
  •  No proper lookout
  •  Operator inattention
  •  General carelessness

Boating while under the influence of alcohol is the leading contributing factor in both serious and minor boating incidents. In fact, the U. S. Coast Guard lists alcohol as the leading factor in 17 percent of boating accidents.

Adults aren’t the only ones injured or killed in boating accidents: In 2008, 11 children under the age of 13 lost their lives while boating, and of these 11, seven died from drowning, an unfortunately common outcome to a boating accident. Overall, two-thirds of boating accident victims drowned, and of those, 90 percent neglected to wear a life jacket.


Federal law (33 CFR Part 173; Subpart C—Casualty and Accident Reporting) requires that victims of boating accidents file a report with the nearest state boating authority. Boating accidents should be reported within 48 hours in the event that:

  •  A death occurs within 24 hours of the accident
  •  An injury results that requires medical treatment beyond first aid
  •  A person disappears from a vessel under circumstances that point to death or injury
  •  Damage to vessel results in more than $2000.00 worth of damage or in a total loss.

If the operator of the vessel is deceased or unable to file a report, the owner must file the boating accident report. Federal law dictates that the reporting authority can be the state where the accident occurred, the state in which the vessel was numbered, or, if the vessel does not have a number, the state where the vessel was mostly utilized. The Coast Guard requires that a report be filed in the event that:

  •  A boater falls on, in or overboard a vessel
  •  A vessel runs aground, capsizes, sinks or floods
  •  A boater is ejected from a vessel
  •  A fire or explosion happens aboard a vessel while underway
  •  Anyone is exposed to carbon while aboard a vessel
  •  Anyone is electrocuted as a result of a stray current related to a vessel
  •  Anyone dies as a result of such natural phenomena as shark attacks, rogue waves and the like
  •  Anyone perishes while swimming from a vessel that is not moored

In the case of more minor accidents, a report must be made within ten days of the occurrence if there is damage to the property or vessel.


The state of Arizona has its own specific regulations in regard to boating accidents. According to the Arizona Handbook of Boating Laws and Regulations, owners of watercraft are required to secure an Arizona Certificate of Number (registration number) and registration decals to operate, moor, or anchor a vessel legally in Arizona.

The Arizona Department of Game and Fish defines watercraft as any boat designed to be propelled on water by machinery, oars, paddles, or wind action upon a sail. All such watercraft must be equipped with U.S. Coast Guard approved flotation devices, including life jackets for each person on board. Arizona law dictates that the life jackets must be in serviceable condition and fit the intended wearer.

According to the Arizona Game and Fish department, the event of a boating accident obliges a watercraft operator to perform the following actions:

  •  The operator of any watercraft involved in an incident resulting in injury or property damage must immediately stop the watercraft, offer his or her name and address, and the name and address of the watercraft’s owner, to the injured party.
  •  The operator of watercraft involved in a boating accident must render reasonable assistance and report the boating accident to the nearest law enforcement agency.
  • The operator must file a report directly to the Arizona Game and Fish department within 48 hours if the injury resulted in a fatality.
  •  If the boating accident resulted in any injury beyond first aid or property damage of more than $500.00 then the operator must file a report with the department within five days.

Arizona law dictates that all peace officers of the state, counties, and cities shall enforce all boating laws and regulations. The Arizona Revised Statutes, Title 5, states that an officer may issue a warning order or a citation, and order the operator of the water vessel ashore to rectify the violation.


Boating accidents can result in life-altering injuries and steep medical bills. Because most boating accidents are the result of negligence, familiarity with state and federal laws governing boating accidents is extremely important. If you are involved in a boating accident, make sure to file a report as soon as possible and consider consulting an attorney trained in boating accident law. A boating accident attorney can help you navigate the often complex process of filing a claim and receiving the settlement you deserve.

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