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7 Most Common Causes of Boating Accidents on Long Island

7 Most Common Causes of Boating Accidents on Long Island

most common cause of boating accidents

Boating on Long Island is an exhilarating pastime and a time-honored tradition. Our waters have hosted generations of locals and out-of-town visitors for centuries. At the same time, boating should always be approached with caution because of the potential for boating accidents on Long Island.

Since 1970, there has been over 13,800 boating accidents in New York State, leading to more than 6,200 injuries and nearly 2,000 deaths, according to New York’s 2018 Recreation Boating Report. Fortunately, the report notes that there has been a marked decline in boating accidents since the 70s. As the number of vehicles registered has swelled, the accident rate per 100,000 vessels has gone down dramatically. Boating accidents in 2018 were just 16.7% of what they were in 1973, the state’s worst year on record.

Yet, boating accidents on Long Island remain a persistent problem. 2018 statewide data reveals that there were 203 accidents that caused 108 injuries and 19 deaths. As the site of many primary recreational waterways, Nassau and Suffolk counties had the most accidents, equalling 32 and 120, respectively. A total of 68 injuries and seven deaths occurred in these counties’ waters.

Anyone involved in a boating accident should follow the necessary response steps and report the accident promptly. If you have been hurt or had a close loved one killed, you can examine your options for pursuing compensation with the help of a Long Island personal injury lawyer.

But why do these accidents happen in the first place? Some can be attributed to unavoidable conditions, like rough waters or dangerous weather. However, a majority can be attributed to operator negligence.

To help you understand why negligence can be so dangerous when operating a boat, the following are some of the most common scenarios explaining how boating accidents on Long Island can occur.

Alcohol and Drug Use

The biggest cause of fatal boating accidents is an operator under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol. From 2005 to 2018, 67 fatal accidents in New York state were attributed to an operator under the influence.

In 2018, 29 total accidents total were caused by alcohol or drug use. 138 arrests were made statewide for boating while intoxicated (BWI).

Alcohol and drugs can slow reaction times and severely hamper decision making. Individuals under the influence will lack the motor skills necessary to maintain control of their vessel, keep watch on hazards, and avoid collisions. Boating passengers who are intoxicated may be more likely to fall overboard, as well.

BWI carries stiff penalties in New York state, which is on par with the state’s harsh drunk driving laws. Just a single arrest can lead to a jail sentence of up to one year and fines between $500 and $1,000. A second BWI conviction within 10 years counts as a felony, with up to 4 years in prison and a fine between $1,000 and $5,000.

Operator Inattention

Operator inattention was the biggest cause of overall boating accidents in 2018 — 86 overall.

Operating a vessel requires constant attention, careful maneuvering, and hundreds of small decisions each second. Allowing yourself to get distracted can easily lead to a dangerous — possibly deadly — accident.

The vast majority of 2018 boating accidents (56%) were collisions, and the majority of those were collisions with other recreational boats. Operator inattention can easily lead to a situation where the vessel is put on a collision course with another vehicle, and the operator could fail to notice in time to react and safely divert the boat.

According to the 2018 New York Recreational Boating report, 24 collisions with a recreational boat involved operator inattention.

Operator Inexperience

Operating a boat is difficult. It requires lots of training, practice and, ideally, supervised instruction.

Inexperienced boaters are more likely to make mistakes or risky decisions. They may also be overconfident and misjudge the risks of speeding or operating in hazardous conditions.

41 boating accidents in New York last year were attributed to operator inexperience, putting it second behind inattention as a leading cause of preventable accidents.

Machinery Failure

Thirty-seven accidents were attributed to machinery failure in 2018. While some of these failures could not have been anticipated, others may have been prevented through diligent maintenance and inspection of vessels.

Boating safety experts recommend changing engine oil at least once per season and inspecting the machinery’s belts and hoses before every journey. The entire vessel should be inspected regularly for signs of corrosion and oxidation — inside and out — on a regular basis.

Make sure to read the vessel’s operating manual in full and to keep up with the manufacturer’s recommended maintenance schedule. Otherwise, a machinery failure could lead to a sudden accident, getting stranded, or other unfortunate circumstances.


Weather was the second-highest cause of accidents in 2018 behind operator inattention when including both preventable and (allegedly) unpreventable accidents.

While no boating operator can control the weather, they can exercise due diligence in response to conditions. Make sure to read the weather report each day and prepare ahead for possible dangerous weather conditions. Keep posted for severe weather alerts from the radio and smartphone apps.

Err on the side of caution when weather changes make waters turn rough. Any time conditions get risky, everyone on the boat should be encouraged to put on a PFD and to stay as far away from the vessel’s gunwales as possible.

No Proper Lookout

Thirty-three accidents in 2018 were caused by “no proper lookout,” according to the New York Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation. Many boating operators don’t think to assign a lookout, yet having a dedicated lookout can easily prevent accidents and save lives.

In 2018, 31 boating accidents involved collisions with a fixed object, 37 involved grounding, and 15 involved striking a submerged object. Clearly, having an extra set of eyes could prove useful for avoiding dangerous accident conditions.


“Excessive speed” was attributed as the cause to 23 Long Island boating accidents in 2018.

Speeding in a boat is incredibly dangerous for several reasons. One is that it is much more difficult to slow a boat in motion compared to a car or other land vehicles.

A second is that higher speeds can make a boat’s motion more dramatic, increasing the risk of the most deadly types of boating accidents on Long Island: capsizing and causing someone to fall overboard.

While just 40 accidents in 2018 involved capsizing, 11 fatalities resulted from these. Similarly, while 35 involved “person ejected from vessel,” they resulted in 10 fatalities. Those fatality rates are much higher than the most common accident type: collisions with another recreational boat, which only resulted in 2 fatalities despite 250 such accidents occurring.

Speak to a Long Island Boating Accident Attorney When There Has Been an Injury or Death

Everyone on a vessel should always be cautious, especially the operator. Ideally, everyone on the vessel should be wearing a PFD (personal flotation device). New York law requires that all occupants under the age of 12 have to wear a PFD.

Despite our best efforts to be safe, we can sometimes put our well-being in the hands of those who can act negligently and cause boating accidents. If you have been hurt in a boating accident or have a loved one who was killed and you think that operator negligence, a defective product, or some other type of inexcusable type of negligence was involved, do not hesitate to explore your legal rights for pursuing compensation.

Carner & DeVita has represented boating accident victims on Long Island for over 50 years. We provide vigorous legal representation that seeks out all available forms of compensation from every potentially negligent party.

Call (631) 543-7070 or contact us online today to speak to a boating accident lawyer on Long Island during a free, no obligation consultation.

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