Anyone old enough to remember will have heard the miraculous story of a seven-year-old boy who survived going over Horseshoe Falls when the boat he was in capsized. The incident happened in July 1960 when a father, his 7-year-old son and 17-year-old daughter went boating in the upper rapids of the Niagara River. Their engine failed and the boat capsized, causing all three to be carried towards the falls.
The daughter was extremely fortunate to be grabbed at the edge of the river by two strangers, before going over, but her father and brother continued over the falls. Tragically, the father did not survive. However, the Maid of the Mist crew spotted the boy in his orange life preserver bobbing below the falls and rescued him. The young boy, Roger Woodward, suffered a concussion and was taken to a Niagara Hospital where he made a full recovery.
Water related activities, such as boating, water skiing, and riding jet-skis are extremely popular during Ontario’s summer season and in most cases, are an entirely enjoyable and safe activity. However, there are dangers and risks involved in all, and a failure to take care sometimes results in catastrophic or fatal injuries. According to the Canadian Red Cross, there was an average of 166 deaths annually due to boating-related accidents, based on data from 1991-2010.
In 2008, an Oakville man suffered a fatal injury as a result of a boating accident that occurred during his visit to a Muskoka lake area cottage. The tragic accident resulted when the motorboat in which he was a passenger crashed into some rocks. The man was thrown into the water without a life jacket, and his body was not recovered until two days after the accident. He suffered a fractured skull and other injuries that were likely inflicted by the boat’s propeller. The driver of the boat was impaired with twice the legal limit of alcohol in his blood at the time of the incident, and was subsequently charged with impaired operation of a vessel causing death.
The most common injuries associated with boating and jet-ski accidents are mild injuries such as cuts, scrapes and contusions, and more serious injuries such as sprains, fractures, concussions and broken bones. However, in more extreme boating accidents, such as powerboat collisions and capsizing, victims may experience catastrophic injuries, such as spinal cord injury, brain trauma or death. Much like car accidents, negligent actions by individuals often play a significant role in boating and jet-ski accidents.
Careless actions that often factor in boating accidents
Drinking – According to the Canadian Red Cross, alcohol was present in more than 50 percent of boating-related fatalities. Alcohol impairs judgement and weakens reflexes. It is very dangerous to drink while operating a water-related machine because it increases the chances of colliding with rocks, other boats or swimmers. It also increases the chances of accidentally falling into the water and drowning.
Speeding – Speeding while driving is unwise under a number of circumstances, such as when there is a lot of boating traffic, waterskiers, and swimmers that could potentially be injured if not seen in time. Also, speeding during inclement weather can result in capsizing and it is not prudent to speed in waters that may contain rocks, trees or shoals, which can result in a collision. Essentially, there are many situations in which excessive speed can lead to the inability to stop when necessary, as well as loss of control of the machine.
Reckless/Distracted Driving – When operating a motorboat, it is important to keep your attention on the water ahead of, and around you. Much like roads, some lakes, and other waterways can become very busy at times, including the presence of swimmers and water skiers as well as powerboats, canoes and other vessels. If a boat operator is inattentive and unaware of what is going on around them, the risk of collision and potential injury may be substantial.
Inexperience – Inexperience is a major factor in boating and jet-ski accidents, particularly with novice boat operators and riders, respectively. Much like driving a car, being able to properly and expertly handle different kinds of watercraft takes time, training and experience. Drivers of motorboats need a different set of skills than canoeist and kayakers. Boats that are not motorized are rarely a danger to other boats, but the risk of capsizing or being caught up in a current is much greater if the canoeist is inexperienced, and inexperienced boaters need to take extra care.
Boating in rough weather -- Wind, rain, and rough water reduce visibility and make it much more difficult to control a boat, including motorboats and even to a greater degree, non-motorized vessels. Capsizing is a particular danger in stormy conditions with large waves. Although the weather is beyond our control, we can control our actions. As such, it is always prudent to check weather conditions before embarking on a boat ride and to use good judgement given the expertise of the boaters, the kind of boat, and how far you are venturing from land.
Aside from avoiding boating in poor weather conditions, there are other actions that individuals can take to minimize the risk of accidents, including:
Boat operators/participants should be educated and trained on the operation of the boat – Like motor vehicles, the law requires all individuals to obtain a boating license before operating any type of motorized pleasure craft. Failure to do so carries a $250 fine. Anyone driving a motorized boat must complete a written course and test administered by Transport Canada before they will qualify for a licence. It is also most sensible for novice boaters of both motorized and non-motorized craft to practice and/or get instruction from an expert before taking control of a boat or beginning an excursion.
Avoid Negligent Behavior – This includes drinking, using recreational or pharmaceutical drugs, speeding, engaging in distracting and/or risky behavior and more. Anything that may impair one’s judgement and physical ability should be avoided while boating and riding a jet-ski.
Always Wear A Lifejacket – According to Canadian Red Cross, wearing a lifejacket may eliminate about 90 percent of all boating-related drownings. Accidents can happen, even when individuals are at their most careful and wearing a lifejacket in these moments will minimize the risk of death.
While boating and riding a jet-ski is a much-anticipated activity for many Canadians every summer, there are very real risks associated with these activities, which participants are wise to consider. When boaters fail to take care or engage in overtly dangerous behaviours, they put family members, friends and the public at risk as well as themselves.
At Stevenson Whelton MacDonald & Swan, our outstanding team of personal injury lawyers are experts in personal injury claims arising from boating and jet-ski accidents. If you or someone you love has been a victim of a boating accident resulting from negligence, call us for a free and honest assessment of your legal options to obtain compensation for your loss.