Boating Safety Tips in Virginia

Stephen M. Smith
Last Updated:
November 27, 2019

The waterways of Virginia are hazardous for boaters whether you are in a kayak, on jet skis, or on a large cruise vessel. Over the summer months, boating accidents are often reported off Hampton, Virginia Beach, or in the Chesapeake Bay or the James River. Simple boating safety tips in Virginia can save your life on the water.

Although the number of boating accidents seen in Virginia every year is a fraction of the number of car accidents, wrecks at sea are often extremely serious. The water is a hostile environment and boaters who lack life jackets quickly come to grief.

Virginia typically records about 100 serious boating accidents and year and about a dozen deaths on the water. Many of these are reported in and around Virginia Beach, the state’s largest city and most popular vacation destination.

According to the U.S. Coast Guard, the leading causes of nautical accidents are the following:

  • Inattentive boaters:
  • A failure to keep a proper lookout;
  • Operator inexperience;
  • Excessive speed on the water;
  • Alcohol use.

Intoxicated boating is the most common cause of boating accidents. Often people fail to apply the same rules to drinking alcohol when piloting a boat as they do behind the wheel of a car.

At the Smith Law Center, we are at the heart of a historic seafaring community. Hampton is one of the oldest cities in America, dating back more than 400 years. Our attorneys are well versed in maritime law and can help when things go wrong on the water. Please call our experienced trial lawyers if you or a family member was hurt in a boating accident.

Tips to Stay Safe on the Water

1. Make sure your boat is properly equipped

When accidents happen on the water, things go wrong quickly. Vessels should have life jackets and other flotation devices available to everyone. First aid kits and emergency supplies are required. Boats that take passengers on the water should have lights, an anchor, emergency flares, and a fire extinguisher. Although life jackets are the most essential piece of safety equipment, we continue to see these regulations flouted. According to the U.S. Coast Guard, almost three-quarters of deaths on the water are caused by drowning. More than 80 percent of the people who drown on the rivers or oceans were not wearing life jackets. Boats for hire and other passenger vessels must be rigorously maintained. Mechanical problems on the water can cause a boat to drift, putting passengers in danger. The Coast Guard attributes faulty equipment and inadequate safety measures to more than 400 accidents a year, about 30 deaths and 150 injuries on the water.

2. Know the rules of navigation

Boaters should have a basic knowledge of waterway navigation, speed limits and which side of a river to travel on. They should be familiar with markers and warnings of shallow waters. In Virginia, all jet ski operators age 14 and over and operators of motorboats with an engine of 10 hp or greater must take a boating safety course accredited by the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.

3. Check the Weather

Bad weather, high tides, and other conditions amount for more than 700 accidents, about 150 deaths and 460 injuries in any given year. The weather in Virginia is often unpredictable. Fierce afternoon storms in the summer can bring high winds and even water spouts and tornadoes. In 2018, a duck boat sank on Table Rock Lake in Missouri when a fierce storm whipped up the water, killing 17 people. A lawsuit alleged the duck boat operator was forewarned of the storm and failed to react in time.

4. Be vigilant on the water

Boating is more dangerous than many people imagine. Boaters should look out for obstacles like rocks, and piers as well as smaller vessels. Fast-moving jet skis and people in canoes and kayaks are often difficult to see as well as swimmers. Boat operators should not be distracted by passengers or electronic devices. In 2018, two people died in a crash between a recreational boat with six people aboard and an oyster barge on the James River in Newport News.

5. Keep to speed limits

Speed limits are posted in river channels and other places where speeding can be hazardous. Make sure you are familiar with them. Always be in control of your vessel.

6. Don’t Drink Alcohol

Alcohol and boats don’t mix. Alcohol has fueled some tragic accidents on America’s waterways. Boaters who drink or take drugs can face a Boating Under the Influence (BUI) charge.

7. Know your boat’s capacity

Some of the most serious boating accidents we have seen in Hampton Roads involved vessels with too many people on board tipping over. Boats can be overloaded with people or cargo. You should be aware of your vessel’s capacity.

Call a Virginia Boating Injury Lawyer over Accidents on the Water

The laws relating to accidents on the water are complicated and different from those on land. Often, maritime law is relevant in these cases. Our attorneys at the Smith Law Center are well versed in maritime law as well as the law on the land. Please contact us for a free consultation today.

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