Jones Act Law – Bowrider Accidents

There are few summertime activities that are more exhilarating than speeding across the water on the bow of a boat with your feet dangling in the spray. Unfortunately for too many people, riding on the bow of a boat has had deadly consequences. In fact, many states have made riding on the bow of speedboats or other recreational watercraft illegal due to the dangers associated with that activity.

Depending on where the accident occurs and what the boat’s purpose is, different laws will apply. If a person is injured on a pontoon boat in a lake, it is likely that state laws would apply. In some cases involving recreational or commercial vessels in navigable waterways, federal maritime laws would apply.

Bowrider Accidents – An Overview

There are many different types of watercraft that enable passengers to ride on the bow, a nautical term for the front portion of the vessel. These vessels include:

  • Bowriders – motorboats with an open bow area equipped with passenger seating in front of the helm.
  • Center Consoles – another motorboat, usually used for fishing, where the bow is open for passenger usage.
  • Deck Boats – speedboat equipped with ample seating in the bow, outboard or stern driven.
  • Pontoon Boats – generally a slower moving boat popular with families, with an open layout where passengers frequently dangle their legs out while underway.
  • Sailboats – usually wind propelled, but often equipped with an auxiliary engine.

State laws would govern most of these types of watercraft accidents because they are typically non-commercial vessels operating for personal pleasure. On the other hand, when these vessels operate in a commercial capacity, or simply operate in navigable waters, federal maritime laws can apply. Maritime law, also known as admiralty law, is generally comprised of federal statutory or common-law and can apply to both recreational and commercial vessels. For example, the Jones Act is a federal law that safeguards maritime employees injured while working on a qualifying vessel.

Bowrider Accident Causes

Bowriding can be exciting, but it is also one of the highest causes of injury and death in recreational boating accidents.  Generally, bowrider accidents involve someone falling or slipping off the front of the watercraft. Some of the most common causes of bowriding accident causes include:

  • Intoxication
  • Excessive speed
  • Unattended minors
  • Choppy waters
  • Defective vessel components/lack of appropriate safety equipment

The most common scenario with bowrider accidents involves someone slipping or falling overboard at the front of the boat and being struck by the propeller one or more times. These accidents happen fast, with no time for the driver to put the boat in neutral to stop the propeller. These accidents are usually fatal.

Bowrider Accident Injuries

Bowrider accidents generally happen in motorboats at higher speeds, making injuries potentially life threatening. Even when someone is wearing a PFD while riding in a boat, this is often not enough to save a person who has fallen off the bow from being struck by a moving propeller. Typical bowrider injuries include:

  • Spinal cord injuries
  • Lacerations
  • Amputations
  • Traumatic Brain Injuries
  • Soft-tissue damage
  • Drowning
  • Broken bones
  • Internal injuries

Assigning Liability In Bowrider Accidents

Bowrider accidents can be avoided. Operator negligence is the primary cause of these types of boating accidents. Drivers operating the vessel at excessive speeds while not ensuring that passengers are safe can be a recipe for serious injury and death. Both owners and operators of watercraft have a duty to ensure the safety of the vessel, as well as the safety of their passengers and other vessels on the water.

Manufacturers also have a duty to make boats and boat components that are reasonably safe and free from defects. Some organizations are lobbying to change boat designs to make them less comfortable for bowriding, in the hopes of making the practice less fun. At the very least, manufacturers should ensure that boats equipped for bowriding have safety holds and non-skid surfaces. Depending on the circumstances, liability could fall on multiple parties to a bowriding accident.

Engaging a skilled maritime lawyer can be critical to ensuring that your rights are protected following a bowriding accident.

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