Capsizing is one of the leading causes of injuries and fatalities in recreational boat accidents. Overturning your boat can result in passengers and items being ejected from the boat and, without the proper precautions, can cause drowning or hypothermia.

Understanding what to do if your boat capsizes can save your life. Additionally, hiring a Louisiana boat accident lawyer can protect your right to compensation if you need to file a claim after an accident.

Capsizing Accidents in Recreational Boats

Boat capsizing is when a boat or watercraft overturns in the water, causing it to be upside down or partially submerged. This can happen due to rough weather conditions, waves, imbalanced weight distribution, overloading, and structural instability of the boat itself.

Capsizing can be dangerous and life-threatening, especially if passengers are not wearing life jackets or are improperly trained in water safety and survival techniques. In some cases, capsizing can lead to the boat sinking, resulting in a loss of life and property.

According to the 2022 USCG Boating Safety Report, out of the 4,040 recreational boating accidents recorded, 234 were attributed to vessel capsizing. That makes capsizing events the sixth most common type of boating accident, in addition to flooding/swamping of a vessel and falling overboard.

Capsizing accidents resulted in 121 fatalities and 103 injuries in 2022. The leading cause of death was drowning, often increased by the failure to wear life jackets.

The report also identified kayaks, open motorboats, and canoes as having the highest rates of capsizing incidents. As boaters and enthusiasts, understanding the causes and implications of capsizing accidents is pivotal for promoting safety on the water and preventing unnecessary loss of life.

What to Do if Your Boat is Capsizing

If you find yourself in a situation where your boat capsizes, taking swift action can ensure your safety and that of your fellow passengers. Some steps to take at the time of the boat capsizing include:

  • Put on your life vest or grab one: If you aren’t already wearing one and time allows, put on your life vest, ensuring it’s snug but not constricting. Hold onto a life jacket for buoyancy and support if you can’t wear it.
  • Activate emergency signaling: If your boat is equipped with an emergency signal transmitter like a VHF marine radio or EPIRB, use it to send a distress signal. Broadcasting a “Mayday” call with your GPS coordinates can facilitate rapid assistance.
  • Use a whistle or horn: If available, blow a whistle or sound the boat’s horn to alert nearby vessels of your distress. Keep using the whistle as a universal signal for help while in the water.
  • Count passengers and stay together: Account for all passengers in the water to ensure no one is missing. Do not separate from the group or send someone to swim for help.
  • Stay with the boat: Do not try to swim to shore; stick with the boat. Staying with the boat provides floating support and enhances visibility. Try to climb onto the overturned hull to make yourself even more noticeable for search and rescue parties and reduce the risk of hypothermia.
  • Use the HELP position for open water: Protect yourself from hypothermia by assuming the Heat Escape Lessening Posture (H.E.L.P.) if stranded in open water. Cross your arms and legs and tuck in while floating to retain body heat and extend survival time.

Steps to Take After the Incident to Protect Your Rights

After being injured in a boating accident, your actions can impact your ability to protect your rights and receive compensation. Safeguard your interests and ensure proper documentation by following these steps:

  • Alert the authorities: Federal law mandates that you must immediately report the incident to the relevant authorities. If the accident results in a death, an injury requiring medical treatment beyond first aid, disappearance of a passenger indicating injury or death, damage exceeding $2,000, or destruction of the boat, file a boating accident report with the state reporting authority.
  • Adhere to reporting timelines: Abide by the reporting timelines specified by federal law. Report within 48 hours if a death, serious injury, or disappearance has occurred and within 10 days for other incidents or deaths.
  • Seek medical attention: Get medical attention for any injuries, even if they initially seem minor. A timely medical evaluation can prevent potential complications and provide the necessary documentation for claims.
  • Document the incident: Record details of the accident, including photographs of the scene, damage, injuries, and any other relevant factors. Accurate documentation can assist in later investigations and claims.
  • File an insurance claim: Notify your insurance company promptly and initiate the claims process. Provide all necessary documentation and follow their instructions closely.
  • Get legal representation: Hire a lawyer experienced in maritime law to represent your interests. Legal counsel can navigate the complex procedures, protect your rights, and help you receive rightful compensation.
  • Cooperate with investigations: If an investigation is initiated, cooperate fully with authorities and provide truthful and accurate information. Your cooperation can aid in determining causes and improving safety measures.

Protect Your Rights with an Experienced Boat Accident Lawyer

Despite practicing maritime safety, capsizing events can still happen. If you’re in a boating accident that causes your vessel to overturn, you need an experienced lawyer to fight for your right to compensation for your injuries.

The personal injury lawyers at Dudley DeBosier have years of experience navigating complex boating accident cases and can help you understand your rights and legal options. Contact us today to schedule your free consultation.

This content has been reviewed by Chad Lederman, Director of Legal Operations at our New Orleans office.

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