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By Ray Kahler

As boating season opens, more people than ever before may turn to the water for relief from staying at home in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.  Unfortunately, collisions and injuries occur on waterways just as on roads.  According to information reported by the Coast Guard, in 2018 there were 633 deaths and 2,511 injuries as a result of recreational boating accidents.

Boating accidents and drownings can occur in many ways – operating a boat while intoxicated, going too fast, not keeping a proper lookout for swimmers or other boaters, inexperience, or not using proper equipment, such as life jackets.

Generally, anyone operating a boat in Washington is required to have a Boater Education Card, which requires taking a boating safety course (either in person or online) and passing a test.  Information about how to get a Boater Education Card and boating laws in Washington is available on the Washington State Parks website, https://parks.state.wa.us/442/Mandatory-Boater-Education.

Insurance companies offer separate boating liability policies.  If you are a boater and do not have a separate boating liability policy, you may be uninsured for any liability arising from boating activities and should contact your insurance agent to discuss your coverage.

Under Washington law, everyone has a duty to exercise ordinary care for the safety of others.  “Ordinary care” means the care that a reasonably careful person would take under the circumstances.  This duty applies while operating a boat just as while operating a car.

Washington statutory law governing boating is found in Chapter 79A.60 of the Revised Code of Washington.  RCW 79A.60.030 provides that:

A person shall not operate a vessel in a negligent manner.  For the purposes of this section, to “operate in a negligent manner” means operating a vessel in disregard of the careful and prudent operation, or in disregard of careful and prudent rates of speed that are no greater than is reasonable and proper under the conditions existing at the point of operation . . . .

The same laws governing driving a car under the influence of alcohol or drugs apply when operating a boat.  Operating a boat under the influence of alcohol or drugs is a leading cause of boating injuries and deaths.

The lawyers at our firm have handled many cases involving injuries and drownings due to boating incidents.  If you or a family member has been injured in a boating incident, please contact us for a free consultation.