I was on a friend’s boat fishing on Lake Michigan when we were hit by another boat. Only two of the four of us in the boat were wearing life preservers so my friend didn’t want to fill out an accident report even though the other boater was at fault. He and the owner of the other boat exchanged information and agreed to settle the damage privately. All 4 of us got to shore but I have continued to have back pain for the last two weeks. What should I do?

First, let’s start out with the facts. The Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) IDNR reported 103 boating accidents in 2011, resulting in 71 injuries and 25 fatalities. The five most common types of boating accidents are collision with another vessel, collision with a fixed object, flooding, skier mishap and capsizing.

Fatalities can often be prevented if personal flotation devices (PFDs) are properly used on board. Illinois law requires that there be one PFD available for each person on a boat or watercraft, and that anyone 12 years old or younger must wear a life jacket on board any watercraft shorter than 26 feet at all times while the boat is on the water. So, as long as there were 4 PFDs on board the boat and all four of you are adults, your friend doesn’t need to be worried about the law, just his own lack of common sense.

Whether you are on the highway or on water, the first thing you should always do in the case of an accident is to file an accident report with the appropriate authorities.  The Illinois Boat Registration Act of 1959 requires the operator of every vessel to file a report in writing whenever a boating accident results in loss of life, injury to a person or property damage in excess of $2000. While accidents that result in death of or serious injury to any person must be reported to the DNR by the vessel operator within 48 hours of the accident, all other reportable accidents should be reported within five days.

The same rules that apply to auto or workplace accidents where you are injured should be followed here also. Go to a doctor to determine the extent of your injuries. Make sure you have a clear diagnosis of issues as well as copies of the doctor’s report and any all results of tests including x-rays and MRIs.

Next, you need information. Does the friend that owns the boat you were on have PWC or personal watercraft insurance? Currently no state requires boat insurance but sometimes docks and marinas do. Just like with car insurance, coverage varies from full coverage that covers everything including theft, fire, and natural disasters to simple liability insurance that covers the costs of damages to other people or property. You also need to obtain the information about the other boat owner. Explain to your friend that while he and the boat owner agreed to settle this privately, your injuries may necessitate you pursuing this directly with him.

You should also contact an attorney. Accidents on navigable waters often involve special state and federal laws. If your injury is the result of a boating accident caused by another boater’s negligent conduct, including reckless or impaired operation of their vessel, you may be entitled to monetary damages.

According to the DNR, the majority of boating accidents occur in June and July, and on Saturday or Sunday between noon and 6 p.m. Most accidents involve operators between the ages of twenty and forty who have over one hundred hours of boating experience but little or no formal safety training. The best action a boater can take to ensure their safety on the water is to wear a personal flotation device at all times.  Operation Dry Water sponsored by the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators asks that all boaters take the pledge to never drink and drive a boat, never be intoxicated on a boat, never be irresponsible or endanger others and to never boat under the influence.