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What Are the Key Differences Between Commercial Vessel and Recreational Boat Accidents in California?

February 23, 2024

What Legal Requirements Are in Place for Operators of Any Vessel?

All private and commercial vessels have the same right to use public waterways, regardless of the size of their craft. However, every ship captain or operator has a responsibility to the individuals onboard and the vessels nearby. Both commercial and recreational vessels must keep a proper lookout and exercise reasonable caution to avoid harming other boaters and swimmers in the same waters.

In all cases, it is incumbent upon the vessel’s operator to know and follow the applicable state and federal regulations and have the training required to pilot their boat responsibly and carefully. Operators must take into account their speed, the impact of their wake, weather conditions, and the maneuverability of their vessels when navigating the waterways to ensure the safety of themselves and those nearby.

Accidents resulting from negligent navigation, poor upkeep of vital equipment, and reckless behaviors may leave operators liable for damages.

While there may be some similarities between accidents involving recreational vessels, such as yachts, speed boats, jet skis, and other private boats, and the often much larger commercial vessels, there are also many significant differences. Maritime law is highly complex, and determining your legal options after an accident can be daunting. Enlisting the help of a skilled lawyer can help simplify the process and give you peace of mind that your case will be handled correctly and efficiently.

How Do Commercial Vessel and Recreational Boats Accidents Differ?

The exact circumstances of a maritime accident can affect all parts of the claims process. Seeking compensation for an injury caused by a private, recreational vessel will differ significantly from the legal process involved when an individual is hurt on a cruise ship or commercial fishing boat. Some cases may have to be tried in federal court, while others can be resolved in county court or through a workers’ compensation or insurance claim.

Reporting Requirements

All recreational vessel owners/operators are required to report accidents occurring on waters within the State’s jurisdiction to the California State Parks Division of Boating and Waterways (DBW) within 48 hours if the accident results in:

  • Death
  • Disappearance
  • An injury requiring medical attention beyond first aid.

A report must be made within ten days if damage to a vessel or other property exceeding $500 occurs or a victim dies due to their injuries over 24 hours after the accident. Failure to report is a misdemeanor that can lead to six months in jail and/or a fine of up to $1000. Accidents resulting in a death or disappearance on a commercial vessel must be reported to the U.S. Coast Guard promptly.


In commercial vessel accidents, the vessel owner may be able to limit their liability under the Limitation of Liability Act, provided they can prove they had no knowledge of the issue that led to the accident.

Commercial vessel employers are responsible for providing a reasonably safe working environment for seamen and may be held liable if their negligence leads to an accident and injury.

In contrast, in recreational boating accidents, liability can extend to the boat operator, the boat owner for poor maintenance, and even the passengers if their actions contributed to the accident. A boating accident lawyer can help you identify all the at-fault parties and navigate the process of filing claims, collecting evidence, negotiating settlements, and taking the case to court if needed.


In commercial vessel accidents, injured workers can often seek damages for their injuries under the Jones Act or the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act (LHWCA). The Jones Act allows seamen who are injured or killed during the course of their employment on a commercial vessel to bring civil action against an employer for negligence or a shipowner for operating an unseaworthy ship. Under the Jones Act, victims may seek compensation for current and future lost earnings, medical expenses, and pain and suffering. Punitive damages may also be awarded if the employer knowingly and recklessly endangered the seaman’s safety.

The LHWCA provides workers’ compensation to maritime employees who work on or adjacent to the navigable waters of the US but are not covered by the Jones Act. Employees eligible for the LHWCA include longshore workers, shipbuilders, ship repairers, and harbor workers. The LHWCA will pay a portion of the injured worker’s lost wages and all their medical expenses and provide vocational training for a new job if they cannot return to their previous position. However, the LHWCA typically provides employers with immunity from civil lawsuits. If you are an injured maritime employee, it is crucial to speak to an attorney to understand the legal remedies available to you.

If you have been injured in a recreational boat accident, you may be able to seek compensation through the at-fault party’s boat insurance. Unfortunately, unlike car insurance, boat insurance for owners and operators of recreational vessels is not required by law. If you are unable to recover damages through insurance, you may be able to bring a civil lawsuit for losses, including medical treatment, property damage, lost wages, pain and suffering, and more.

How Can an Experienced Maritime Accident Attorney Help You Determine Which Laws and Jurisdiction Will Apply to Your Case?

It can be incredibly complex for individuals to figure out whether state, federal, or municipal laws will apply to their watercraft accident. Many factors, including where the accident occurred, if you were working at the time, who was at fault, and what type of vessel(s) were involved, can affect the specifics of your claim. Due to the complicated nature of these claims, it is vital to consult a knowledgeable maritime accident lawyer to ensure you have the best possible chance at recovering full compensation for your injuries. 

Any time you experience an accident on the water, whether you’ve been hurt as a passenger or employee on a commercial vessel or were injured while boating on a California lake with your friends, the Law Offices of Preston Easley can provide solid legal guidance and the representation you need. Contact our firm today at 310-773-5207 to schedule a free case evaluation and learn more about your legal rights.

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Cases We Handle

  • maritime worker working on ship

    Longshoremen & Shipyard Workers

    Longshoring and shipyard work are very dangerous occupations. Workers in these fields, along with marine construction workers, are covered by the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act, a very generous no-fault workers’ compensation system. It covers medical expenses, temporary disability, permanent disability and vocational rehabilitation.

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  • sea vessel docked at US shore

    Jones Act Seamen

    A seaman is a member of the crew of a vessel or group of vessels under common ownership or control. The vessel can be anything from a raft to a cargo ship. We represent seamen who work aboard recreational vessels, tugboats, dredges, barges, skiffs, workboats and cargo ships. We also represent seamen who are marine construction workers

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  • Diving

    We represent people who have been injured in SCUBA diving accidents and Commercial diving accidents. We also handle diving boat accidents. Diving can be very dangerous. We successfully represented a commercial diver who was seriously injured while cleaning the propeller of a U.S. Navy ship at Pearl Harbor

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  • accident at construction site and hard hat on floor

    Construction & Industrial Accidents

    Construction and industrial sites can be very dangerous. Although you generally cannot sue your own employer for a construction site or industrial accident (generally workers’ compensation is your exclusive remedy against your employer) there are many circumstances in which you can file a third party lawsuit against an entity other than your employer for an unsafe condition at a work site which causes you to be injured

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  • Forklift and Crane Injuries Lawyer

    Crane & Forklift Accidents

    The Easley firm has extensive experience with crane and forklift accidents and workplace accidents involving dangerous equipment and machinery. These accidents can be caused by operator error and they can be caused by the unsafe and defective condition of the equipment

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  • auto accident involving two cars on a city street

    Motor Vehicle & Truck Accidents

    Motor vehicle accidents can result in serious injury and death. These kinds of accidents can involve automobiles, trucks, motorcycles, bicycles, pedestrians and unsafe road design and unsafe road conditions

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  • Catamaran Injuries Attorney

    Passenger Vessel Accidents

    Passenger accidents are common on recreational vessels, catamarans, tour boats and cruise ships.  They are frequently caused by rough sea conditions and unsafe conditions aboard the vessels.  The Easley firm has extensive experience in the field of maritime law.  We have made new law in the field of maritime law with numerous precedent setting decisions in the State Appellate Courts, the Ninth Circuit Federal Court

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  • Defense Base Act

    The Defense Base Act is an extension of the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act which covers civilian employees of U.S. defense contractors injured overseas, including war zones. The Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensations Act as extended by the Defense Base Act is a very generous no fault workers’ compensation system

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Areas Where We Practice

Preston Easley is a graduate of the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, MD. He served five years of active duty as a Naval officer — three years as a deck officer on a fast frigate and two years as a patrol boat skipper. Mr. Easley also served aboard a tank landing ship in the reserves.




Let Us Get You The Compensation You Deserve

Preston Easley is an experienced lawyer with considerable expertise in handling federal and state personal injury cases. He will aggressively seek the maximum amount of compensation you are entitled to receive. Attorney Easley represents victims of serious and fatal accidents involving cars, trucks, construction projects and maritime work.

Construction Workers We Help

  • Crane and Forklift Operators
  • Pile Drivers
  • Scaffold Workers
  • Iron Workers
  • Carpenters
  • Electricians
  • Operating Engineers
  • Electricians

Maritime Workers We Help

  • National Steel and Shipbuilding Company (NASSCO) Shipyard Workers
  • Manson Construction Company Workers
  • Manson Dredging Workers
  • Dutra Dredging Workers
  • Commercial Divers
  • Scuba Divers
  • Commercial Fisherman
  • Government Maritime Claims Against the Navy, Army Corps of Engineers, or the US Coast Guard, etc.
  • Marine Construction Workers
  • Offshore Oil and Gas Workers
  • Seamen
  • Shipyard Workers
  • YYK Enterprises, Inc.
  • Pacific Tugboat Service
  • Long Beach Container Terminal
  • Tugboat, Dredge, Longshoremen, and Ferry Workers
  • Barge Crews and Barge Workers
  • Marisco Limited
  • HL Welding
  • SSA Marine
  • Catalina Express
  • R.E. State Engineering
  • Shimmick Construction
  • Nova Group
  • American Scaffolding
  • Safway Scaffolding
  • Kirby Tugs
  • Crowley Tugboats
  • P&R Water Taxi
  • Continental Maritime
  • Pacific Ship Repair
  • Seaward Marine
  • Healy Tibbitts
  • General Construction
  • BAE Shipyards
  • South Coast Welding
  • Matson
  • Pasha
  • Hawaii Stevedores, Inc.
  • McCabe, Hamilton & Renny
  • Young Brothers
  • Sause Bros.
  • Foss Maritime
  • Fenix Marine Services
  • ITS
  • Total Terminals
  • TraPac
  • PCMC
  • Maersk
  • Yang Ming
  • China Overseas Shipping
  • Evergreen

Boating Accidents

  • Catamaran Accidents
  • Charter and Tour Boats
  • Cruise Ship Accidents
  • Passenger Accidents
  • Jet Ski and Personal Watercraft
  • Motorboat Accidents
  • Recreational Accidents
  • Scuba Diving Accidents
  • Speed Boat Accidents
  • Yachts and Sail Boat Accidents
  • Repair Accidents
  • Crew Accidents
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