The Delaware waterways are a popular destination for boating, jet-skiing, paddle boarding, water-skiing, and other recreational activities. As the summer approaches, many people are looking forward to getting out on the water and shaking off their winter blues. Unfortunately, some water users are not as prepared as they should be for the dangers of the water. Inexperienced, underprepared, and sometimes reckless boaters can cause accidents on Delaware waterways resulting in serious injuries to themselves, or other boaters.
If you are getting out on the water, you should know how to stay safe, obey the law, and what to do if you do get in a boating or jet ski accident. Staying calm and knowing what to do in the event of an accident can save lives and protect your legal rights.
1. Make sure everyone is safe
The first priority in any accident is to ensure that everyone involved is safe and that anyone who is injured gets medical attention. In a boating accident, there can be even more dangers in the aftermath of the accident because of the risk of drowning, the unpredictability of the water, and the difficulty getting to emergency services.
If anyone has fallen overboard or is otherwise at risk, you should get them to safety without compromising your own safety, or that of other passengers or water users. Do a headcount to ensure everyone is accounted for. If someone is in the water, use a buoy or rope to help them to safety. It is not advisable to get into the water to attempt a rescue. Tragically, there are many cases of would-be rescuers drowning or suffering severe injuries when trying to save another person.
If you, your passengers, or your vessel is in an unsafe situation, you should get out of harm’s way. High traffic waterways can be particularly dangerous after a boating accident. Although you should move to a safe position, you should not leave the scene of the accident.
If someone is injured, call for help and medical attention. If you have a first aid kit, you may be able to tend to minor injuries while waiting for the emergency services. Even if you have only minor injuries in a boating accident, it is advisable to see a doctor as soon as possible after the accident, to determine if you need treatment, and get a medical report of your injuries. Injuries that seem minor at first can become worse over time. Also, a medical report will be important in any claim for compensation related to the accident.
2. Call for help
If you have an accident on the water, even minor incidents can quickly turn into an emergency situation. You have a number of ways that you can call for help if you are involved in, or witness, a boating accident.
If you have cell reception, you can summon help to a boating accident by calling 911. This will notify the nearest emergency services, such as the U.S. Coast Guard and the Delaware Fish & Wildlife Natural Resources Police, that you need emergency assistance.
You can also make a distress call on a VHF marine radio, Channel 16. The U.S. Coast Guard reserves and monitors certain channels for distress calls and will dispatch help. Also, other boaters are able to hear a distress call made on a VHF radio, and if someone is nearby, they may be able to come to your aid while you wait for the emergency services.
Distress signals can also be used to attract attention and summon help in a boating emergency. The U.S. Coast Guard states that visual distress signals are a minimum equipment requirement on all recreational vessels. There are various types of distress signals for day or night use, including signal flags and smoke flares, and you should know how to use them in an emergency before you get out on the water.
3. Gather evidence
When you and your passengers are out of immediate danger, you should record details of the accident for any insurance or legal claim. This will include:
- Names, addresses and telephone numbers of boat operators and passengers involved in the accident.
- Names and contact information for witnesses to the accident.
- Registration or identification number of other vessels involved in the accident.
- Photos or video of damage caused by the accident.
- Photos or video of the scene of the accident, including general location and position of vessels.
- Insurance details of operators and vessels involved in the accident.
- Medical reports of any injuries.
All of this evidence will be crucial to proving your case and obtaining just compensation after a boating accident whether by filing an insurance claim, negotiating a settlement, or even pursuing a legal claim.
4. Report the accident
Under both federal and Delaware state law, a boating accident must be reported to the U.S. Coast Guard and to the Delaware Fish & Wildlife Natural Resources Police within certain time limits if:
- A person dies;
- A person is injured and requires medical treatment beyond first-aid;
- A person disappears from the boat under circumstances that indicate death or injury; or
- Damage to the boat and other property totals more than $2,000 by federal law or $500 by Delaware state law, or there is a complete loss of the vessel.
Delaware law specifically requires that vessel operators notify the Delaware Fish & Wildlife Natural Resources immediately after a boating accident in which a person dies, disappears, or is injured requiring medical attention beyond first aid. The Delaware Fish & Wildlife Natural Resources Police Enforcement Section’s emergency number is 1-800-523-3336 or 302-739-4580.
The State of Delaware also requires that a boating accident be reported in writing to the Delaware Fish & Wildlife Natural Resources Police on a Recreational Boating Accident Self Report Form. The form must be submitted within the following time limits:
- Immediately, if a person disappears or is injured requiring medical attention beyond first aid;
- Within 24 hours, if a person dies; and
- Within five days, if damage to the vessel and other property exceeds $500.
A written accident report is not only required by law but may also be important evidence in any legal claim or negotiation after the accident.
5. Notify your insurance company
If you were the owner or operator of a vessel involved in a boating accident, you must notify your insurance provider of the accident (whether or not the accident was your fault.) You may need to make a claim on your own insurance policy even if you were not to blame for the accident.
However, you should not admit any fault or discuss the accident with other parties or insurance companies before consulting a lawyer. It is easy to say something that you do not realize will affect your claim and your compensation. Generally, it is best to let your lawyer speak to other parties and insurers on your behalf.
6. Contact a boating or jet-ski accident attorney
In general, personal injury plaintiffs who have legal representation obtain higher settlement amounts than unrepresented plaintiffs. Boating accidents can cause serious injuries and significant property damage. For some people involved in a boating accident, their lives are changed forever as a result of their injuries and trauma. Although compensation after an accident cannot turn back time, it can make a huge difference to the practical help that a victim of a boating accident can obtain, and the impact on their financial security. A good personal injury attorney can help maximize that compensation.
Good attorneys can also deal with the many people involved in a boating accident claim on your behalf, from insurance companies to the Delaware Fish & Wildlife Natural Resources Police. The regulations and regulatory agencies involved in boating accidents are different to any other area, and an experienced attorney can navigate this for you, to ease your administrative and emotional burden.
You should not have to pay expensive legal fees to get advice on your legal rights after an accident or even to pursue a claim. Most boating accident attorneys, including the team at Morris James, will offer an initial consultation free of charge to discuss your accident, your legal rights, and your options. Morris James will also take on your case on a contingency fee basis, which means that you will only pay attorney fees if you obtain a settlement or verdict.