Charter boats are great fun for recreation and are useful for other purposes. Charters are boats that are rented by passengers either with or without a crew. Reasons for chartering a boat may include recreational trips for scuba diving, snorkeling, fishing, or other tourist activities, but may also include work trips like academic research or surveying.
Unfortunately charter boat injuries and accidents happen regularly and are often the result of negligence on the part of the captain, the crew, or the owner of the vessel. If you have been injured in a charter boat trip, you have legal rights under federal maritime laws to sue for compensation for medical treatment and other damages.
Regulations for Charter Boats
The charter boat industry is regulated and there are rules set by the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) that must be followed. If any of these rules or regulations are ignored or mishandled, the responsible part could be considered negligible in the case of an accident. Charter vessels are regulated by the USCG according to size and number of passengers. Small passenger vessels (weighing less than 100 gross tons) and uninspected passenger vessels (weighing between 100 and 300 gross tons) must follow certain rules, but do not need to be inspected by the USCG. Charter boats over 300 gross tons are subject to inspection.
Charter Boat Accidents
In addition to size, number of passengers, and the purpose for chartering, there are two main types of charter boats: bare boats and full service boats. A bare boat is a charter boat that passengers may rent to use without the charter service providing a crew. The passengers renting it become the crew and are responsible for the operation of the vessel. If an accident occurs on a bareboat, those operating the vessel may be completely or partially liable. A full service charter boat is one that is rented with a crew provided. In this case the owner, captain, and crew have responsibility for making sure the boat is seaworthy and operated correctly.
There have unfortunately been a number of charter boat accidents over the years and all over the U.S. that have led to injuries and even fatalities. While some may be true accidents, in most cases negligence can be pinpointed as a cause of the incident. Misconduct, operator error, poor crew training, and lack of adequate equipment are common negligent causes of accidents and injuries. Examples include the following:
In 2013 passengers aboard a recreational vessel were injured and the captain was killed when they collided with another boat on the Mississippi River in Louisiana. Crashes like these can be tragic, and may be caused by inadequate lighting, poor crew training, misconduct by the crew or captain, or poor navigation.
A charter boat in Mexico sank in the Sea of Cortez in 2011 resulting in eight lost lives. A storm took the boat down, but investigations showed that the crew and captain were negligent in the incident. The vessel had been modified so that it was no longer stable enough to stand up to a storm. The captain and crew also failed to give safety instructions to passengers, including the call to abandon ship which could have saved lives.
In 2004, a charter taxi called the Lady D rolled over and capsized during a storm off the coast of Maryland. Five passengers were killed, four had serious injuries, and several more had minor injuries. Investigations found that the vessel had loaded more passengers than is allowed under USCG regulations. This resulted in the boat becoming unstable in the waves.
Common Charter Boat Injuries
Charter boat accidents are unfortunately not uncommon, and while too many result in fatalities, many more cause injuries to passengers and crew members. Proper safety precautions could prevent many of these incidents, but too often the captain, crew, or owner of the vessel fail to do their duties to protect passengers and are found negligent. Among the many accidents that cause injuries in charter boat accidents, some are most common:
- Rough seas and weather. Crew and captain are supposed to be adequately trained to navigate rough waters and vessel owners are responsible for making sure vessels are seaworthy. When the do not, rough waters can cause overboard accidents, capsizing, sinking, hypothermia, drowning, and injuries from shifting cargo and equipment.
- Slips, trips, and falls. When equipment is not safely secured aboard a boat, passengers may trip and fall and be injured. Decks not kept clean and dry can also lead to similar slips and falls causing head injuries, broken bones, and cuts and scrapes.
- Intoxicated crew members. It may be tempting for crew to join the party with passengers, but doing so can lead to accidents, like collisions, poor navigation, capsizing, physical assault and other incidents that cause injuries.
- Food-borne illnesses. Charter boats that provide food for passengers are responsible for ensuring the food is safe to eat. Spoiled food can cause food poisoning and other illnesses.
Legal Consequences in Charter Boat Accidents
Charter boat owners, captains, and the crew members all have some level of responsibility for keeping passengers safe. The owner is supposed to ensure that the vessel is seaworthy, that staff is experienced enough to crew the vessel, and that the boat is equipped with everything necessary to make it safe. The captain and the crew are responsible for operating the vessel safely, for navigating correctly, for giving passengers safety information, and for making sure the vessel is not overloaded.
When any of these responsibilities are not met and a charter boat incident leads to injuries and fatalities, the owner, crew, or captain can be found liable. If you have been injured in such an incident, let an experienced lawyer help you get the compensation you may be entitled to receive for any medical expenses and other costs you incur because of the accident. Federal maritime laws are in place to protect you on the seas and you are entitled to adequate compensation when those responsible have not kept you safe.