Boating Accidents in Georgia

With 100 miles of coastline, and over 2,000 miles of tidal shoreline, in addition to countless lakes and rivers, such as Lake Lanier, Lake Allatoona, and Lake Hartwell, Georgia is a popular place for boating.  Georgia has over 325,000 registered boats, which is about one boat for every 32 people. As the summer months continue, more and more boats will be on our waterways. The 325,000 registered boats does not include those that pass through Savannah and other ports from other states and countries.  


What many people do not realize is that accidents involving a boat can be just as deadly as those accidents involving a car. Last month, a man died on Lanier Lake in a boating accident. While the accident is still under investigation, the man died while being pulled behind a boat in an inflatable tube and likely was the victim of negligence of the boat operator. This man’s death is only one example of the serious dangers of the waterways. In 2015 in Georgia, there were 102 boating incidents including 39 drownings, 64 crashes that resulted in injuries, and 22 deaths as a result of injuries. While this is only a fraction of the number of people who died on the roads (1,427) in 2015, the number is still significant.


What Steps Should You Follow If You Have Been in a Georgia Boating Accident?


The Georgia Department of Natural Resources(DNR) has issued guidance on what you should do in the event of a boating accident in Georgia. DNR and Georgia law requires that you give any assistance necessary to someone involved in a boating accident unless it endangers you or other passengers. Georgia law prevents you from being liable for any civil damages caused during the providing of assistance. This encourages people to help others in need.


After providing assistance (without endangering and if you are able), you need to report the accident as soon as possible to DNR. If your accident occurs off the coast of Georgia in the Atlantic Ocean, similar reporting requirements apply but these types of accidents are usually handled by the Coast Guard. You must file a report if an individual involved in the accident dies or disappears. If the person disappears, their disappearance must show circumstances of death or injury. You must also report the accident if there is any injury that requires first aid or if property damage on the boat, docks or other objects exceeds $2,000. Even if you don’t believe there is one of the factors that triggers reporting, it is still a good idea to report any boating accident.


How Soon Do I Need to Report My Accident?


Generally, Georgia allows you five days to report a boating accident. However, there are circumstances where the reporting requirements are reduced to 48 hours. You must report a boating accident to DNR within 48 hours if a person dies within one day of the accident, if a person requires medical treatment for their injuries, or if a person disappears from a boat as a result of the accident.


After you report an accident, you should consult an experienced attorney as soon as you can. If you believe you may have been at fault in the accident, it may be a good idea to consult an attorney before you even file an accident report.


What Are Common Causes of Boating Accidents?


One of the most common causes of boating accidents is when the operator of the boat is under the under the influence. While some believe that drinking while boating is not as dangerous as driving under the influence, it is still a criminal offense that carries the same potential fines and jail time as driving under the influence.


Weather conditions or unfamiliar conditions on the water are also a common cause of accidents. Often, a person does not use their boat enough to be familiar with all types of water conditions, so they may make novice decisions in an unfamiliar setting jeopardizing their safety and the safety of their passengers.


Who Is Liable in a Georgia Boating Accident?


Boating accidents in Georgia are governed by traditional negligence laws. Someone engages in negligence when they fail to act as a reasonable boater would in the same circumstances. A reasonable boater is a fictional person who adheres to all rules and regulations of safely operating a boat. If the case goes to trial, a jury will determine whether or not a boater acted as a reasonable boater would.


Georgia has a specific statute for an owner’s liability for the negligent operation of a vessel. Georgia has gone further than some states in determining the liability of boat owners. The owner of a boat may become liable even if they were not driving it. If the driver of the boat is related to the owner or is using the boat with the owner’s permission, then the owner may be liable for damages. This was the result of the case Gunn v. Booker, where the owner of a boat let his brother drive and ended up having to pay damages for individuals that his brother had hit.


These laws extend beyond boats as well including sail boats, jetskis and other water craft. As many boating accidents only involve a single vessel, sometimes determining liability can be difficult. A skilled attorney who is familiar with the negligence law of Georgia can help you determine who is at fault and who should be sued for a recovery of your damages.


How Can a Georgia Injury Lawyer Help?


Our state offers many great opportunities to get out on the water. It is always important to be safe and be alert when operating a boat. However, we understand that accidents can still happen even under the best of conditions. When an accident happens it is important to consult an experienced Georgia personal injury lawyer who can protect your rights. At the Law Office of John B. Jackson, we have experience dealing in all types of accidents and we welcome you to contact us today for a free consultation in your case.