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Boating While Intoxicated & Other Ways To Get Sued While Boating

Like many of you, my family spent part of the Father’s Day Weekend boating.  While we were out, we saw a number of concerning things:  people jumping off of cliffs (without life jackets, of course), drunk passer-by urging the cliff jumpers on (though this did provide a learning moment for my kids about peer pressure), and a group of guys carrying another guy up the bank of the lake  (I’m not sure what happened there).

I’ve spent a lot of time writing about boating safety, but this weekend, I saw a blog post on  boating safety from my friend Steve Lombardi, a personal injury lawyer in Des Moines.  Steve said he spent some time thinking about all the ways people could get in trouble from a lawsuit standpoint while boating.  I’m reprinting his list (with his permission) below:

Off the water and before you leave the dock:

  • Not enough life vests for the number of passengers who will be onboard.
  • No fire extinguisher.
  • Not having a compass, GPS or map of the area.
  • Not being familiar with the area.
  • No water onboard and too much drinking that tends to dehydrate.
  • No communication device to call shore in the event of an emergency.
  • Not filing a float plan and leaving it with someone on shore.
  • Not checking to make sure you have enough gas.
  • Not checking the weather before heading out.
  • Not having an anchor.
  • Not having rope to secure the boat.
  • Not knowing how to use an anchor.
  • Not knowing how to tie a knot.
  • Not having a knife to cut the rope if needed.
  • Not having simple tools onboard that would allow you to make simple fixes.
  • Not taking a water safety course.
  • Not having a light to signal with if you get stuck after dark.
  • Not having a first aid kit.
  • Not bringing along ice in a ice chest to keep the food from spoiling.
  • Not making sure every passenger has the right gear for the length of time they will be on the water.
  • Knowing your passengers and which ones will listen and do as the captain says.
  • Failing to choose a designated driver for the day.
  • Allowing an inexperienced operator to take the boat out.

On the water:

  • Drinking alcohol and driving the boat.
  • Allowing passengers to drink too much.
  • Driving too fast before all passengers are secured or seated and ready to go.
  • Allowing swimmers near a moving propeller.
  • No spotter when pulling a water skier or other passenger behind the boat.
  • No water skier vest being used.
  • Not watching ahead as you pull a skier.
  • Creating a wake while overtaking a smaller boat.
  • Fooling around while the boat is in operation.
  • Getting too close to dangerous man-made objects- like dams and waterways.
  • Failing to have the proper operating lights after dark.
  • Not staying to the right when approaching another boat.
  • Not paying attention to the buoys and other water markers.
  • Not watching ahead for swimmers in the water.
  • Not knowing the lake or river and where it is safe to be and not safe to be.
  • Not knowing when things on the boat are getting out-of-hand.
  • Not maintaining control of the passengers.
  • If in a sailboat, tying the mainsail.
  • Fishing for sharks or whales in a rubber raft. (Just wanted to make sure you were listening!)

Pulling the boat:

  • Towing the boat without the safety chains.
  • Exceeding the limit of safety while pulling the trailer and boat.
  • No spare tire for the trailer.
  • Failing to secure things left inside the boat as you tow it down the road or highway.
  • Not having all the trailer lights working on the boat trailer.
  • Not using hand signals and trailer light signals.
  • Failing to double check the hitch assembly to make sure you put on the safety chains.

My step-dad was a pilot for American Airlines for a long time, and one of the key safety features in the airline industry is the checklist.  Before every flight, pilots go through an exhaustive checklist to make sure that they haven’t forgotten anything that might threaten the safety of the plane or its passengers.  The checklist was important to make sure all the details were taken care of, particularly the smaller, routine items.  People don’t forget the big things, they forget the small, routine things, that can be just as dangerous.  People need to think about using a checklist for boating, and Steve’s list is just about as good as any list I’ve seen.  (And if you’re interested in learning more about the need for checklists, I highly recommend The Checklist Manifesto: How To Get Things Right by surgeon Atul Gawande.  It’s a good read that might really make a difference in how you do some things.)

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