Who is Responsible for Avoiding a Collision Between Two Boats?

In 2017, the United States Coast Guard reported 4,300 boating accidents. Out of all the accidents, collision with another boat contributed to about 30%. A collision between boats is common enough, but it brings forth the question – Who is Responsible for Avoiding a Collision Between two Boats? This article answers the question and highlights how one can avoid getting into accidents while on the waters.

Who is Responsible for Avoiding a Collision Between Two Boats?

Who is responsible for avoiding a collision of two boats?

Out in the waters, it is the responsibility of all parties to pay attention to where they are going and avoid collisions. Similar to how the roads have certain rules that the drivers have to abide by, being on the waters will also require you to follow navigational rules.

There are no clear rules on who has the right-of-way, but navigational rules follow certain protocols that you need to be aware of.

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Common Causes of Collision Between Two Boats

Two boats can collide for any number of reasons, but the most common ones are:

  • Alcohol

Alcohol consumption is one of the major reasons why boat accidents happen. Not only does operating a boat under the influence increase your chances of getting into an accident, but it is also the leading cause of death in those accidents.

In the United States, fatal boating accidents because of alcohol made up 19% of total boating-related fatalities in 2018. Drinking while operating a boat will increase the chances of colliding with another boat, and can even increase the chances of accidental drownings.

  • Mistakes by the Operator

If the person operating the boat makes a mistake, then it can lead to an accident or a collision. Mistakes can happen for many reasons, on the part of the operator. Bad weather, alcohol consumption, poor lighting, or navigational mistakes can all be the cause of a collision.

  • Not Paying Attention

It is crucial for the boat operator to pay attention to their surroundings. Inattention can lead to accidents or collisions. The person operating the boat should be aware of other boats, swimmers, or rocks – because a collision with them can easily lead to a fatal accident.

  • Environmental Causes

Water bodies are unpredictable by nature, and therefore a dangerous place to be in the best of circumstances. If you are operating a boat, there is a lot that can go wrong while you are out on the sea. The weather can take a turn for the worse, or the waves can get more intense – and they can increase your chances of colliding with another boat.

It is important that someone operating a boat be aware of the dangers that water bodies can pose. If you see the weather getting worse, or the waves getting more intense, then the best course of action would be to return to safety.

It is mostly the inexperienced operators who fall victim to the unpredictable nature of the sea. But sometimes, even experienced operators and passengers can make mistakes and end up in an accident because of environmental factors.

  • Equipment Failure

Boats, just like any other vehicle, can malfunction because of a number of reasons. It could be because of a lack of maintenance, or equipment failure because of wear and tear. Boats need regular maintenance and repairs to be considered safe.

Not keeping up with the maintenance can increase your chances of an accident or a collision. Equipment failure is a major reason for fatal accidents, and your boat should be kept in good condition if you intend to use it often.

  • Lack of Preparation

Since the waters can be dangerous and unpredictable, anyone who is planning on going out on a boat should be prepared for all eventualities. It does not matter whether you are planning to take your boat out for work or fun – you should keep the necessary supplies with you no matter what.

Some important things that you should have on your boat in case of an emergency are life vests, first-aid kits, flares, and clean water. These things will help you out in case there is a collision. A flare can help you send a signal if you are lost, or if you need help.

A life vest can prevent drownings in case of an accident. Medical supplies will come in handy if you happen to get injured or help you tend to someone else’s injuries.

Along with the necessary items for emergencies, you should also check your boat’s radio. It can be useful – especially if you are so far out that your cellphone does not have a signal.

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How to Prevent a Collision Between Two Boats

How to Prevent a Collision Between Two Boats

While out on the waters, it is important to remain alert and pay attention to your surroundings. Here are some of the things you can do to decrease your chances of colliding with another boat:

Follow The Rules

There are rules and regulations in place when it comes to navigating a boat in the waters, and you should be familiar with them if you want to avoid a collision. You should know about the buoys and channel markers, and also know what the lights flashed by another boat could mean.

Knowing the basics of sound signals is also important. If you hear a short blast, that means a boat is allowing you to port. If you hear two blasts, then it means that they are leaving you to starboard.

The most important sound signal is the five blasts – which means danger. If you hear five blasts, you should check to see if it was meant for you or someone else.

Pay Attention

While you are operating a boat, you should pay attention to your surroundings. Either you or someone else should always be on the lookout, and see if there are any approaching boats, people swimming, or any other thing that can be a hazard and lead to an accident.

You should pay special attention when the weather conditions are terrible. Rain and fog can impair visibility, and you should avoid going out on a boat in those conditions.

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Maintain a Safe Speed

You should maintain your speed within the speed limits. The average speed of most ships is about 30 knots, and keeping that in mind will help you avoid larger vessels. You should also avoid racing or trying to outrun vessels. In conditions where visibility is limited, such as fog or rain, maintain low speeds.

If you are close to a swimming zone, then avoid speeding or divert your course. You should also steer clear of shipping lanes because those are used by large vessels and can be dangerous.

Do Not Operate the Boat Under Influence

Boating under the influence of alcohol or illicit substances can land you in a lot of trouble. Not only does boating under the influence increase your chances of a collision, but it can also create troubles with the law.

You should also make it a point to stay as alert as possible while operating a boat. If you are tired, or fatigued, then you should not be taking your boat out.


If you are operating a boat on the water, then it is your responsibility to keep your vessel and your passengers safe. Many of the accidents that happen can be avoided by staying alert, and following navigational rules. Even if the other vessel is the one being reckless, you can stay safe by being on the lookout and taking appropriate action.

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