Jones Act – Jet Ski and Personal Watercraft Accidents

Jet skis are essentially the motorcycles of the water – small, fast and extremely dangerous when operated by inexperienced or reckless individuals. Jet skis and other personal watercraft (PWC), such as Sea-Doos and Waverunners, have increased in popularity over the years which has led to an increase in injuries and deaths due to collisions with other vessels.

Jet skis are considered Class A inboard vessels by the U.S. Coast Guard, and those who operate these types of PWC are required to follow USCG rules of the road, just like other watercraft. Any failure to follow those rules that lead to an injury may be actionable by the person injured. Depending on the location and circumstances of the accident, state or federal laws, including maritime laws like the Jones Act may apply.

Jet Ski Accidents – An Overview

Most states do not require any type of license to operate jet skis and other PWC, but may set age limits, like anyone under 12 years of age must be accompanied by an adult.  Some states require operators and passengers to wear personal floatation devices. Others require that the PWC be equipped with an automatic kill switch that cuts off the engine when the operator falls off. Still, others prohibit performing stunts like jumping over a boat’s wake.

Despite regulations designed to protect operators and passengers of PWC, accidents still happen. The most common accidents involving PWC include:

  • colliding with another PWC
  • crashing into another motorboat or sailboat
  • flipping over
  • running aground
  • ramming into docks or channel markers
  • striking partially submerged objects

Jet Ski Accident Causes

Like automobile accidents, PWC accidents can be caused by a variety of factors. The top causes of PWC accidents are:

  • operating under the influence of drugs or alcohol
  • driver inexperience
  • failure to follow navigational rules and regulations
  • traveling at excessive speed
  • reckless operation
  • attempts to repair the vessel

While in many cases, people blame jet skis for many accidents that occur on the water, sometimes, the fault lies in the inattention of other boaters. Jet skis care smaller and harder to see, especially at dusk, making them easy to hit when a boater is not paying attention.

Jet Ski Accident Injuries

Unlike many other motor-powered watercrafts, jet skis are powered by water jets, not propellers. This is a true benefit due to the fact that most operators and passengers fall off the craft at some point in time and propeller injuries can be fatal or life altering. Regardless of the lack of propeller, jet ski accidents are still the second highest injury-causing vessel on the water, according to the USCG).

In 2015 alone, more than 620 people were injured as a result of a PWC accident. The most common PWC accident injuries are:

  • amputations
  • broken bones
  • burns
  • lacerations and bruises
  • concussions
  • dislocations
  • internal organ damage

Riders between 15 and 17 years of age see the highest number of injuries in these types of accidents. Most fatalities (over 85%) are caused by riders not wearing a life vest, and more than 70% are caused by operators that have not been given safety instructions.

Determining Liability in Jet Ski Accidents

Every accident is caused by some degree of negligence on someone’s part. Every PWC operator has a duty to know the rules of the road and to follow them. Failure to follow those rules can lead to injuries or death. These accidents may be governed by any number of city, state and federal laws, all with different standards of care.

In addition to operator duties, the manufacturer of these vessels also has a duty to produce vessels that are reasonably safe and free from defects. Many PWC accidents are caused by some sort of manufacturer’s defect. When this is the case, anyone in the chain of production could be liable for jet ski accident injuries.

To ensure your rights are protected after an on-the-water accident, your best course of action is to talk with an experienced maritime law attorney.

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