A 21-year old man was seriously injured in a boating accident in the waters off Compo Beach near Westport recently. Police say that the driver of the boat, who was friends with the victim of the accident, allegedly put the 26-foot Sea Ray Sun Deck into reverse and cut the victim’s legs with the propeller of the boat when the boat ran over him. The boat operator was charged with reckless operation of a vessel while under the influence.
Alcohol-related boating deaths have been rising in Connecticut to 22 between 2006 and 2012, from only 6 between 2001 and 2005. Nearly one third of all boating deaths in Connecticut are alcohol related, greatly exceeding the national average of one in five.
Connecticut has worked to reduced alcohol-related boating deaths, including passing a law that mandated tougher penalties in 2009; however, boaters continue to engage in unsafe boating practices. A Coast Guard review found that of the 34 people who passed away from alcohol related accidents from 1998 to 2012, none wore life jackets. Surprisingly, one third of all alcohol-related boating deaths in Connecticut occur in non-motorized watercraft.
Connecticut has many programs in place to encourage safe boating. In addition to requiring a Safe Boating Certificate to operate recreational vessels excluding personal watercraft such a Jet skis, Connecticut offers Personal Watercraft certifications for Jet skis and similar watercraft, as well as canoe and kayak safety classes.
Recreational boat operators often do not realize that they have the same obligations when operating their boats that they do when behind the wheel of an automobile. Boat operators must follow all laws, including not operating the vessel under the influence of alcohol and otherwise operating the vessel safely. If a recreational boat operator injures another person while operating their vessel dangerously or recklessly, they may be liable for damages they cause to other boats and for the injuries they cause to other people. Compensation for injuries can include compensation for medical expenses, payment for pain and suffering caused by the injuries, compensation for time away from work, and payment for expenses needed to fully recover from the injury or future medical expenses.
A Greenwich, Connecticut man recently received a sentence of probation over a 2010 boating accident off the coast near Madaket in Nantucket. The August 2010 accident, described as a “hit-and-run boating collision,” injured two people, sending both to the hospital.
Nearly a year later, in July 2011, prosecutors in Nantucket County charged the operator of one of the boats, 21 year-old James Sternlicht, with multiple offenses. These included unsafe operation of a motorboat and failure to report a motorboat accident. Because Sternlicht was under the age of 21 at the time of the accident, prosecutors added a charge for alcohol possession. They also charged him with operating a motorboat without a proper identification number. Massachusetts law, like the laws of Connecticut and other states, requires registration of boats, and requires that boats to have proper documentation.
In March 2012, a Nantucket District Court judge sentenced Sternlicht to one year of pretrial probation for the unsafe operation of a motorboat charge. The court fined Sternlicht $500 for failing to report the accident, and $50 for operating the boat without identification. Prosecutors dismissed the charge of alcohol possession. Sternlicht must also complete a boating safety class through the United States Coast Guard before he may operate a boat or any other water vessel again.
Boating accidents are a serious problem throughout the country. The U.S. Coast Guard identified 4,789 boating accidents in 2008. These accidents caused 709 deaths and 3,331 injuries, and caused about $54 million in property damage. Ninety percent of the fatalities did not have a life jacket on, and ninety percent occurred with boat operators who had not received safety training. The Coast Guard found that alcohol was the main factor in seventeen percent of boating accident deaths that year.
Connecticut requires a Safe Boating Certificate (SBC) in order to operate a recreational vessel such as a boat. For jet skis, described by state law as “personal watercraft,” the state requires a Certificate of Personal Watercraft Operation (CPWO). To obtain either certificate, an applicant must complete a basic boating course and an examination. Children under the age of 16 may operate a boat, but not a personal watercraft, if an adult age 18 or older with a SBC supervises them. Children under the age of 16 may operate a personal watercraft if an adult with a CWPO accompanies them.