Perhaps because motorboats are vastly less numerous than cars, many people mistakenly assume that motorboats are somehow “safer” and less likely to be involved in accidents. The fact is, though, that hundreds of people are killed in motorboat accidents every year, not only these ship’s operators, but also recreational swimmers, fishermen, and other residents and tourists enjoying these states’ ample marine attractions.
As you can imagine, given its thousands of miles of coastline, the state of California has some very specific regulations concerning the operation of motorboats. In California, children under 16 years of age are not allowed to operate motorboats exceeding 15 horsepower, but 12- to 15- year olds can pilot these boats if they’re under the supervision of someone aged at least 18. (If the thought of an 18-year-old teaching a 12-year-old how to drive a powerful motorboat instills you with a sense of dread, you’re not alone).
Details vary by location, but California law sets a motorboat speed limit of 5 miles per hour when the vessel is within 100 feet of a bather or 200 feet of a populated beach or diving platform; the DUI laws in California waters are identical to those on land, with a blood alcohol limit of 0.08 percent. According to California accident statistics, 25 percent of all motorboat accidents are caused by excessive drinking, either by pilots or passengers. Finally, all children under 13 years old are required to wear life jackets.
In California motorboat owners and operators are not compelled to obtain licenses or carry boating insurance, although the vessel does have to be registered, with prominently displayed stickers showing the registration number. In lieu of licenses or other means of regulation, the state offers various boating safety classes, though it’s unclear how many motorboat owners take advantage of these classes unless ordered to by a judge usually as the result of a serious accident or infraction.
As a general rule, the drivers of motorboats, their passengers, and any bathers or fishermen in the immediate vicinity are subject to the same liabilities, and opportunities to recover damages, as their car-driving counterparts on land. If you are an innocent bather or recreational boater who has been injured by a recklessly driven motorboat, you can sue the owner and/or operator of the boat for damages, and if you’re a driver or passenger who has been involved in an accident caused by a defective motorboat, you can potentially sue the manufacturer. The motorboat’s operator can also sue recklessly behaving passengers, or other boaters whose negligence directly precipitates the accident.
In California a high percentage of motorboat accidents are caused by inebriation—and, it should be no surprise that many motorboat mishaps in this state involve some combination of underage drivers and excessive alcohol because teenagers are permitted to operate boats even if they cannot yet drive.
If you have been injured in a motorboat accident, or by a motorboat piloted by an inappropriately supervised minor, you may be entitled to sue the parents (or the boat’s owner) for damages, and if the driver of the motorboat (whether a minor or an adult) was inebriated, you may have recourse to recover damages from the restaurant, bar or liquor store that provided the alcohol. Only an experienced maritime lawyer can tell you for sure — call or email our law firm today for a free consultation.