Georgia is blessed with a long coastline and numerous, large man-made lakes including Lake Allatoona and Lake Lanier. The overwhelming majority of boaters are safe and careful, but accidents do happen and some boaters make the deadly decision to boat and drink. As sailors with the Lake Lanier Sailing Academy, the partners in the firm have witnessed numerous unsafe decisions by boaters every weekend in the summer.
Boating is extremely liberating and it is easy for boaters to forget that they are operating several thousand pounds of engine and fiberglass at over 30 miles per hour. For a skilled and observant skipper, there should be no problem but with alcohol and sunset involved, the situation becomes much more dangerous.
At the end of a long day on the water, the cumulative effects of beer and sunshine and the dimming sunlight can have deadly consequences for other boaters. Alcohol is involved in more than 70% of boating incidents on Lake Lanier.
What are the Legal Options if You are Injured or Someone is Killed by a Boater?
As with car accidents in Georgia, boaters are required to exercise ordinary care in the operation of the boats and must follow the rules of navigation and the Georgia Department of Natural Resources Regulations.
It is illegal on Lake Lanier and Lake Allatoona to disregard for the safety of persons or property. The following activities are prohibited because they endanger human life:
trying to jump the wake of a boat 100 feet away or less or “buzzing” other boats.
Failing to maintain proper distance while operating a boat or towing a skier.
Allow a rider on your boat to sit on the bow or gunwale unless there are safety railings.
Failing to regulate boat speed
Exit at high speed from a cove or channel where your path may cross with other high-speed boats.
Operate a boat with a blood-alcohol level of 1.0 or above.
If found guilty you are guilty of a misdemeanor with a fine of $1,000, loss of privileges. There are stiffer penalties for BUI if there is a child under the age of 14 on board.
In addition to the DNR rules, there are classic rules for boating right of way. The problem is that most boat operators have no idea what the rules are so they drive boats the way they do cars, down the right side of the waterway.
Every boat operator shall keep a proper look-out at all times.
Every boat operator shall use a safe speed at all times.
The Crossing Rule
When two engine-powered vessels are approaching, the boat to the right (starboard) has the right of way and the other boat is the give-way vessel. The give-way boat has the duty to avoid the collision and must change speed or course to avoid the collision.
Each boat shall bear off to starboard when meeting another boat head-on to avoid a collision.
There are also a variety of rules applicable to narrow channels and bends in the river which includes the requirement to sound one short blast on an air horn to make your presence known.
When it comes to injuries and wrongful death cases due to boating accidents one of the key considerations is often the insurance coverage available. Although severe boating injuries are often worth well into the hundreds of thousands of dollars as far as objective case value goes, the reality is that most at fault boaters are not wealthy people. The old adage that you cannot get blood from a stone is true and therefore you can be practically limited by the amount of boating insurance the person carries. Their car and homeowner’s policies are not in play.
If you are involved in a serious boating injury case, there can often be multiple claimants. When that happens, there is a race to the insurance company to secure as much as possible of the available insurance limits for your family member. Your lawyer should be looking for a boat insurance rider on the homeowner’s policy or a separate boat policy, along with information about any umbrella policies the owner may have.
Some high-end homeowners policies with Chubb insurance will provide insurance for the boat as excess coverage over any boat specific policies but others will contain an exclusion for powerboats with more than 50 horsepower. Proper insurance coverage analysis is a critical component of good lawyering on Georgia boat injury cases.
In summary, serious boat injury claims can be complex and often involve unique maritime insurance issues, so consulting with a boat injury lawyer in Georgia early in the process is important.