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Boating / Personal Watercraft Accidents

What authority does the state Marine Patrol officer or the United States Coast Guard officer have at the accident scene?

The state Marine Patrol officers, or similar state agency officers, are law enforcement officers of that state and have all necessary police powers that would be available to other law enforcement officers such as the state highway patrols. The United States Coast Guard has jurisdiction over all American vessels within state waters and anywhere in the world.

What law, state or federal, governs recreational boats?

It is important to remember that the federal general maritime law supersedes all state laws concerning vessels of any type. However, the states may enact additional laws which do not conflict with the federal legislation. For example, states are allowed to regulate yacht brokers and sales persons, data systems for the registration, numbering and titling of vessels, establish collision reporting in addition to that required by United States statutes, and states may establish criminal penalties for reckless and careless operation of boats including punishment for boating under the influence of alcohol or other substances.

A chief limitation on the state's rights to regulate boating within its territorial waters depends on whether or not there is a conflict with any federal law. In the event that there is a conflict, federal law applies.

What should I do if I am involved in a boating accident?

Most boating accidents require a report to either the state agency regulating boats or to the United States Coast Guard or both. If an operator is involved in a collision with another boat or an "allision" (which means striking a fixed object or a non-moving vessel), he or she should immediately contact the state agency regulating boats to ascertain what type of report is required, if any. A reporting requirement is generally triggered if the boating accident involves personal injury requiring medical treatment beyond immediate first aid or damage to any vessel or other property above a certain specified amount, frequently $500. Failure to remain on the scene, render aid, and timely report the boating accident to an appropriate law enforcement agency is a crime. Report the incident to your insurance company to be safe and always if a state or federal report was made.

What should I do if I am asked by a marine patrol officer or the Coast Guard to give a statement regarding my boating accident?

Try not to make any statement without your attorneys counsel and advice because this communication may be very important later on in your claim. Give only the basic information regarding the accident. If you admit some fault for the accident in the report, or omit an injury, these may end up haunting you later.

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