The State of Michigan is in the heart of four of the Great Lakes. In addition, according to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, we enjoy the presence of more than 10,000 inland lakes and over 35,000 miles of freshwater rivers, streams and wetlands. Michigan has more registered boats than any other state in the nation.
As the last month of summer slips by, recreational boaters (including personal watercraft) and their guests will take to the waters to squeeze the last portion of fun from a fading season. Following a few obvious safety rules and tips will help reduce the number of personal injuries from boating accidents and collisions.
Who Is Allowed to Operate a Boat or Personal Watercraft?
- Boats – This is pretty simple. If you were born before July 1, 1996, you may operate a boat without restriction. If you were born after July 1, 1996, you may operate a boat only after obtaining a boating safety certificate and having it present on the boat. This applies to all boats with a motor of more than 6 hp.
- Personal Watercraft – If you were born before December 31, 1978, you may operate a personal watercraft without restriction. If you were born after December 31, 1978 and are at least 16 years old, you may operate a personal watercraft only with a boating safety certificate. Those who are 14 and 15 years old must have a boating safety certificate and either be accompanied by a parent or guardian or operating within a 100 feet from a parent or guardian.
Personal Flotation Devices
U.S. Coast Guard approved personal flotation devices must be on board for each person present. The U.S. Coast Guard publishes specifics of required types of personal flotation devices. Children under the age of 6 must actually wear the personal flotation devices whenever they are on an open deck. All persons who are being towed must wear approved personal flotation devices.
Dangerous and Illegal Boating
Under Michigan law, the following behaviors are illegal and will subject the owner/operator to possible civil lawsuit liability and even criminal charges – especially when resulting in a boating collision or accident with serious personal injury. This list is not exhaustive and is intended to provide a few examples of common mistakes.
Any operation of the boat or personal watercraft that displays a disregard for the safety of or which creates a risk of harm to others.
- Coming dangerously close to another watercraft
- Failing to travel counterclockwise on an inland lake
- Speeding or traveling at a speed that will not allow you to come to a safe stop
- Boating under the influence of alcohol or drugs
A Little More on BUI
Boaters operating under the influence can be arrested and charged with a crime. If you are operating under the influence and cause great bodily injury or death to anyone, not only will you be charged with a felony, but you will also be subject to personal liability in a lawsuit seeking money damages.
Studies have shown that, drink for drink, a boat operator is likely to become impaired more quickly than a driver of an automobile. A boat operator with a blood alcohol level of .10 percent is 10 times more likely to die in a boating accident than an operator who has not consumed alcohol.
Alcohol consumption while operating a boat greatly increases the chances of a boating accident and results in serious injury or even death of the operator or passenger.
What Is Required in the Event of an Accident?
The operator/owner must stop immediately at the scene and assist anyone who is injured or in danger, unless doing so would endanger your own vessel or your passengers. You must provide, in writing, your name, address and vessel identification to anyone who was injured and to the other operator/owner.
In addition, federal law requires that you must file a boating accident report with the State if:
- A person dies
- A person disappears from the vessel
- A person is injured and requires medical attention beyond first aid
- Damage to the property totals $2,000.00 (this can be a lower amount in some states)
- The boat is destroyed
A form that is acceptable for this purpose is available on the U.S. Coast Guard website.
In the Quest for Fun, Be Safe and Be Careful
As the summer boating season comes to a close, risks of serious injury and death from careless operation remain. It takes only one lapse of judgment, one careless act, to cause a serious boating accident.