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What Is the First Action Required of a Boat Operator Who Is Involved in a Boating Accident

Written by J. Harvey / Fact checked by S. Numbers

what is the first action required of a boat operator who is involved in a boating accident

Safety is of paramount importance when boating, and knowing what to do in emergencies is pivotal to keeping such situations manageable. In line with this, what is the first action required of a boat operator who is involved in a boating accident?

A boat operator should first respond to any immediate dangers to the boat, their passengers, or themselves, ensuring everyone’s safety. We’ll cover this and other important actions to take.

Keep reading to learn more.

Boater Response to Accidents


If you are involved in a boating accident, what is the first thing you must do? As someone operating a watercraft, there is a set of actions you need to do right after an unfortunate boating incident. The safety of your passengers is your top priority, but there are other considerations as well.

  • Address any immediate danger

The first action required in boating accident is to check for any immediate risks or dangers and respond accordingly. Ensure that all passengers are accounted for, and determine their current state. Make sure everyone is properly equipped with PFDs in case the problem escalates.


It’s a good idea to turn off the engine and keep the vessel from moving as you assess your situation.

In some instances, it may be dangerous to leave the vessel as is or to stay in the same place where the incident occurred; reposition or relocate your boat as you deem fit. However, stay near the area of the incident to keep yourself from getting accused of dodging responsibility.

  • Call for assistance


It is important to call for help promptly. Make use of a VHF radio, which is more reliable than a mobile phone. Be sure to have the relevant information ready such as your location, the specifics of the emergency, the number of passengers on board, and your boat details.

  • Ensure the safety and well-being of passengers

Now you can take more time to check on everyone on board. Apply first aid if necessary. It helps to reassure others that the situation is still under control.

When is a boat operator required to assist anyone injured? Even for someone who was not involved in a boating accident, you must provide help to others. This is especially true for someone involved in the accident, regardless of who is at fault.

However, this applies only if help is within the means of a boater. If lending assistance in such situations may put the boat or its passengers in danger, the operator should not attempt anything on their own and focus on calling for help instead.

Check the boat for any damage and assess its capacity to operate. If the vessel sustained heavy damage, determine whether evacuating the vessel is best.

  • Wait for authorities to arrive

Anyone involved in an accident is required to wait for boating authorities to arrive at the scene of the incident. Leaving early is punishable by law and may result in fines or jail time.

The exception to this is if any resulting injury is serious enough that immediate medical attention should be sought. In such a situation, an operator may leave and return to the scene afterwards.

While waiting for the proper authorities, gather and exchange information for filing an accident report. Provide your identification and contact details to other parties involved. Taking photographs of any damage to the vessel may also help your insurance claim.

Reporting Accidents


When a boater is involved in an accident, there is a good chance that it will be necessary to make a report to the relevant authorities. But when is it necessary to report a boating accident immediately and how much time do you have?

The following are situations specified by the USCG as those that require filing.

  • The incident resulted in the death of any person
  • There is an injury that could not be treated with first aid alone
  • The disappearance of any person
  • Total loss of a boat
  • Any damage to a vessel or property exceeds $2000 (varies by state)

There also exists a proper window for submitting details regarding an incident to authorities. However, this varies depending on the circumstances.

For incidents involving any death within 24 hours of an incident, the report must be made within 48 hours.

If any person is injured or goes missing where there is a likelihood of severe injury or death, the 48-hour window is also observed.

For any other situations, involved boaters are allowed a maximum of 10 days.

Remember that failure to comply with these guidelines will result in legal liability, so it is important to be mindful of them.


What is the first action required of a boat operator who is involved in a boating accident? Now you know what actions to take, including what you need for filing a report with the relevant authorities. It is best to avoid any accidents, but knowing all of this helps.

If you have any comments and suggestions or if you’d like to share any of your own experiences, please feel free to drop them below.

Remember to boat safely.

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