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Understanding the common causes of boat accidents can help keep you safe on Michigan waterways. Similar to auto accidents, boating accidents fall into many of the same categories when it comes to what causes collisions and wrecks. User error is the cause of almost 75 percent of all boating accidents, but there are other elements that come into play which can supersede good judgment or impede conscientious boat operators.
There are different levels of inexperience on waterways. A young teen who has spent every summer of his life on Michigan waters with his family likely has more experience operating a boat than the adult who bought a water vessel on a whim. Age isn’t the main factor when it comes to inexperience, as is evidenced by the law that allows boaters under the age of 12 to operate a motorboat (with some restrictions). Experience, knowledge, and awareness are the biggest factors that impact the success of a boating voyage. Unfortunately, the state of Michigan does not require boaters to complete a boating safety course, and this is often to the detriment of all people on the seas. There are far too many boat operators who are unprepared to deal with an emergency on the water, handle equipment malfunction, or navigate through bad weather.
With water fun comes alcohol and other drugs, and there is no shortage of people spending their vacation or weekend out on Michigan waterways along with a cooler full of beer. Intoxication is common among boaters, and while it would be nice to think that the boat operator is the designated operator for the day, it’s not uncommon for the captain of a ship to be one of the most intoxicated people on board. Even if the boat operator is sober, passengers who are unruly and intoxicated can be troublesome and the cause of boating accidents because they distract the driver, distract other boaters, tumble into the water accidentally, or hurt themselves.
Smartphones are responsible for rising levels of distracted driving and accompanying auto accidents, and they’re also at fault on Michigan waters. Boat operators who are spending more time with their nose in their phone rather than paying attention to what’s ahead and what’s around them can easily veer off course, wrecking into another vessel, crashing onto the shore, or failing to notice warning signals or changing weather that can put them and their passengers in jeopardy. It’s also easy to simply be distracted on the water, especially if you’re moving along at a slower pace. Boat operators can be tricked into the feeling that this driving job doesn’t require the same second-to-second responsibility as being behind the wheel of a car. But if you get involved in a conversation with a fellow boater or stop to adjust a setting, a few seconds can be the difference between smooth sailing and disaster.
Since there isn’t a boating safety course requirement in Michigan, any inexperienced boat operator who is on the water and suddenly encounters a problem could find themselves stranded and in a serious emergency. Even veteran boat operators can be flummoxed when flooding occurs, there is an electrical malfunction, or something is simply not right with the boat and they are too far from land or any fellow boaters to get the kind of help they need immediately. Alternatively, a boat that suddenly is out of control because of faulty equipment can lead to a dangerous crash, whether solo or between vessels.
Just like highways become more dangerous the busier they get – think Thanksgiving travel – Michigan waterways become more treacherous the more crowded they get. In the heart of summer, there will be personal water craft operators attempting daring tricks at breakneck speeds right alongside meandering pontoon boats. These varied activities and a wide range of water crafts – from sailboats to canoes, fishing boats to motorboats toting water skiers – are often a recipe for disaster. While waterways are governed by maritime laws and any boat operator should know the rules of the waves before they set sail, it’s impossible to guarantee that every vessel’s driver is knowledgeable and capable. Add to that the reality that waterways are an exercise in disorder, what with no traffic lines or lane demarcations possible. Everyone on the waterway is at the mercy of every other boater.
Christensen Law – Your Michigan Boat Accident Attorney