Why do boating accidents cause so many personal injury claims in Alabama?

and when do you have a personal injury claim?

    Why are boat accidents so common in Alabama?

    The Yellowhammer State boasts some of the most stunning boating lakes and rivers in the USA, but the grim reality is that this comes at a price.  Hitting an all time high in 2019, Alabama was the state with the fourth highest number of boating accidents in the USA and this only dropped marginally in 2020.  In 2019 there were 101 accidents, 25 of which were fatal, resulting in 28 deaths in addition to 31 non fatal injuries.  Whilst in 2020 there were 12 fatal accidents which led to 19 deaths as well as 35 injuries.  This shows that they are a large problem in this state and are unlikely to improve significantly without intervention.  Alabama attracts sailors for numerous reasons, such as the access to the Gulf of Mexico on top of the numerous spectacular rivers and lakes.   Furthermore, each year bigger, better and faster boats are created, whilst smaller boats like kayaks are more readily available, for example they are available in Walmart for around $200.  This promotes and encourages more and more people to get out on the water, which in turn means that waterways are busier, so there is a higher chance of accidents occurring. 


    What Factors Contribute To Boat Accidents In Alabama?

    1. Alcohol consumption – Boating is generally a group activity, whether it be a fishing trip, a family/friend catch up or a full-blown boat party and there will normally be a number of people in the group consuming alcohol.  This tempts the driver to join in, but ends in disaster when they are less able to operate the controls.  In 2019, alcohol was the cause of 12 accidents in Alabama, which caused 12 injuries and 8 deaths.

    2. Speeding – Driving a boat is good fun, but driving a boat at high speed is exhilarating for some and when this speed becomes too excessive it causes accidents, when they are unable to steer clear of another vessel in time.  

    3. An inexperienced driver – It is true that children as young as 12 can operate a boat, with a supervisor, whilst 14 year olds can operate one with no supervision.  Affording young teenagers the ability to control large, fast and therefore potentially deadly vessels is a very odd move.  The threshold to enable one to become an operator is actually very low, as the only requirements are to complete an online course, pay a fee and have a card from the DMV.

    4. Distracted drivers – It only takes a second of being unaware of your surroundings for an accident to occur.  Operators can become easily distracted, be it by taking in or capturing pictures of the beautiful scenery on Alabama’s lakes or taking your hands off the controls to engage with other passengers.  A small lapse in concentration can cause easily avoidable accidents.

    5. Faulty equipment – Whether it be a fault in the steering system or the engine, if this happens at a crucial moment it can cause vessels to crash.

    6. Decline in enforcement – Whilst 10 years ago the Marine Patrol Team in Alabama of approximately 65 officers was full, now only 45 officers watch over the waters.

    What Are Some Tips To Prevent Boat Accidents? 

    1. Sober Sailing – Just like driving on the roads, if you have consumed alcohol or drugs you will be less aware and have slower reactions whilst in charge of your vehicle, meaning you are a danger to yourself and others.  It's also against the law to drink while boating. 

    2. Slow and Steady – Make sure you are operating your boat in a safe and careful manner, have due regard for any passing boats and other potential obstacles.

    3. Climate check - Before heading out onto the water, make sure that you have checked the weather forecast, so as to avoid any dangerous conditions.

    4. Know your stuff – Ensure that you know the relevant admiralty laws for the waterway you are travelling on and comply with them!

    Is The Process to Obtain a Boater Safety Certification (License) Too Easy For Young People?

    The steps that one must take to obtain their license are minimal.  First, one must go to the Department of Public Safety Driver’s License Examining Office in the county they live, where they submit an application and pay a fee of $5.    Then all they have to do is answer medical questions, complete an exam, however it is possible to surpass this test, if they can show they have an exemption, in the form of their age, or a Boating Safety Course Certificate. 

     To be 12 years old and this is all that must be done to obtain a license seems odd, even though they must always have a licensed adult of age 21 or above next to them whilst they operate, it still seems too straightforward.  A 12 year old operating a vessel in deep water is very risky, as they could get into difficulty easily.  Is it worth the risk?  Some would argue yes, as some young people are very mature and wise, whilst on the other end of the spectrum some are too immature and should not be allowed to put themselves and others at risk of harmful situations.  However, saying this under 12’s cannot operate any motor boats.  This limits them to rowing boats, which begs the question, how much trouble can they get into in one of these boats, under supervision?  

    The position between 12 and 14 year olds is very different. A 14 year old is able to operate ANY boat, and does not need to be supervised.  Again, some 14 year olds are very mature for their age, however many are the opposite of this, which makes them a danger to themselves and others when operating fast vessels on the water.  Should this be changed to a minimum age of 16, as it is for a driving license in Alabama?

    When Are Boating Accidents Most Common?

    Like other popular social activities, the most accident-prone period is the 4th July holiday.  Independence Day is not only a National Holiday, but it is right in the middle of summer, when the hot weather is at its best, which inevitably attracts people to the water.  For example, in 2019 there were 12 crashes and many more injured.

    Key Parts of Admiralty Law In Alabama

    • If an accident occurs in navigable water, such as the Alabama River in Montgomery, then federal maritime law will apply.

    • If an accident occurs in non-navigable water, then Alabama Boating Law will apply.

    • Operators must carry their Alabama Boater Safety Certificate (boating license) on their vessel when they are operating.

    • The legal limit is 0.8% or more alcohol in the blood, by weight.

    • If one is found to be over the legal limit (BUI) they could face up to 1 year in prison, fines of up to $2,100 and their boating privileges will be taken away for 90 days 

    • If found to be guilty of BUI for a second time then they could face up to 1 year in prison, up to £5,100 fines and loss of boating privileges for 1 year.

    • If this occurs a third time then they could endure prison for a minimum of 60 days, a fine of over $10,000 and loss of license for 3 years.

    • If one fails to comply with testing for alcohol then their vessel license will be suspended.

    • It is unlawful to operate a vessel carelessly, with prime examples being; 

    • Causing a dangerous wake in a busy area,

    • Sitting above the gunwale or cap whilst travelling at high speed 

    • Travelling on the vessels bow, without any handrails.

    • Cutting between a boat and those it is towing

    • Driving a vessel towards people or objects, then turning at the last minute so as to spray them

    • Crossing another vehicle at a right angle in close proximity

    • Everyone on board a personal watercraft, such as a jet ski, must wear a life preserver, as approved by the US Coastguard. 

    • Every personal watercraft that is used to tow others must have rear view mirrors

    • It is unlawful to operate a personal watercraft unlawfully, i.e: endangering life, limb and property, key examples include;

    • Quickly dodging through busy areas

    •  Jumping the wake of a vessel, in close proximity to that vessel, when they are travelling in the same direction

    • And again, driving a vessel towards people or objects, then turning at the last minute so as to spray them

    • Every vessel must have the right amount of personal flotation devices (PFD).  They must be easily accessible at all times, so they can be put on in an emergency.

    • Children under 8 must wear a PFD at all times, unless they are in a closed cabin

    Did the Coronavirus Pandemic Impact The Frequenct of  Boat Accidents in Alabama? 

    It is highly likely that the slight decrease in accidents from 2019-2020 was aided by the spread of COVID-19, as it meant that less people were able to gather for group activities, such as fishing, boat parties and going on a trip with your family or friends.  It also caused a decline in tourists visiting the lakes, which meant that even fewer people were out on boats putting themselves in danger of accidents.  The fact that the COVID vaccination programme in Alabama is well underway means that people will be able to and eager to partake in group activities and as we enter into summer, boating in Alabama will be high on a lot of peoples to do list.

    What Should You Do If You Are Involved In A Boat Accident in Alabama?

    1. Call 911 and ensure that everyone is safe

    2. Collect contact information

    3. Note down damage to both people and property

    4. File an accident report

    5. If this accident has caused damage over $50 this report must be filed within 10 days

    6. Find the best personal injury lawyer for your case – You should file a claim as soon as possible, as Admiralty Law provides a 3 year statute of limitations, whilst Common law allows only 2.

    If you are in a boat accident, what can you recover any of your damages? 

    In 2019 boating accidents cost the state $766,208 in damages.  This statistic ranks Alabama 20th in the USA, which although is only just in the top half, still shows this type of personal injury is relevant and problematic.  If in a boat accident you may be able to claim for:

    • Medical expenses, both current and future

    • Loss of earnings

    • Pain and suffering

    • Emotional distress

    • Loss of enjoyment of life

    What is the best way to find a Boat Accident Lawyer in Alabama?

    At Adidem, we relieve you of the tireless task of endless consultations with multiple lawyers and remove the risk of you hoping to find the right lawyer with the first one you contact. We take the pressure off, by bringing the boat accident lawyers in Alabama to you, so you can compare the lawyers and see who is best suited to your individual case.


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