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Safety Equipment and Boat Owner Liability

By Hardwick & Pendergast, P.S. on October 20, 2020

Just like motor vehicle owners, boat owners are subject to specific regulations to protect the safety of other boaters and their occupants. While many of these laws apply to the speed a vessel can safely travel at and operator behavior, owners are also required under federal and state law to have certain safety equipment aboard to help prevent serious or fatal injuries. When they fail to do so, they can be held liable for any injuries an occupant sustains.

Safety Equipment Required on All Boats

All boats of any size, including stand-up paddleboards, canoes, and kayaks, are required under state and federal law to have the following safety equipment onboard, as stated by Washington State Parks:

  • Life jackets: There must be a life jacket approved by the U.S. Coast Guard, of the right type and size, for every person aboard a vessel.
  • Sounding device: The boat must have a whistle, bell, or horn.
  • White navigation light: This light is used in times of low visibility – at dawn or dusk, or in fog or heavy rain.
  • Flares or other nighttime visual distress signals: This is a requirement only on federal waterways.

Having this equipment aboard a boat minimizes the risk of a passenger suffering a serious injury, including drowning. However, these are not the only rules that boat owners must abide by.

Additional Safety Equipment Requirements

Depending on the type of engine and the length of the boat, there may be additional safety equipment requirements under state law, including:

  • Vessel registration: Registration must be on board, and registration decals and numbers must be displayed, except on human-powered boats of any length.
  • Boater education card: This is required for power-driven boats greater than 15 hp.
  • Personal flotation device (PFD): One throwable flotation device is required for each person on board.
  • Ignition safety switch: This is required for personal watercraft (PWCs) only.
  • Children wearing life jackets: On boats shorter than 19 feet, children 12 years and under are required to wear U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jackets in Washington.
  • Fire extinguisher: A type of B-1 fire extinguisher is required for power-driven boats.
  • Backfire flame arrestor, ventilation system, muffler, and skier-down flag: These items are required in Washington for all vessels except human-powered boats.
  • Daytime visual distress signals: This is a state requirement for all vessels except PWCs and human-powered boats 16 feet and over.
  • Nighttime visual distress signals: Required for all vessels except PWCs.
  • Navigation lights: These are required on all boats. Human-powered boats must have at least one lantern or flashlight onboard.
  • Carbon monoxide (CO) warning sticker: This requirement applies only to boats with motors.

Like lifejackets and flares, these safety laws protect boat passengers and ensure that a boat operator is certified to head out on the water, whether it is Puget Sound or Lake Washington. Sadly, many fail to meet even the minimum requirements, and these mistakes often lead to serious boating accidents.

How to Hold Negligent Boat Owners Liable

If you have been injured because a boat owner failed to comply with safety regulations, you may be entitled to pursue compensation for your losses. To do so, you will need to thoroughly investigate the nature of your accident, including whether or not the owner disobeyed Washington state boating laws. If they were required to have specific safety equipment but did not, and you were injured because of that lack of equipment, then you could hold them accountable in a civil court.

Our Seattle personal injury lawyers at Hardwick & Pendergast, P.S., can investigate your accident to determine fault and liability. We can assess the full extent of your damages, negotiate skillfully with insurance companies on your behalf, and fight for your rights in court, if necessary, to pursue the compensation you deserve. Contact us at (425) 228-3860 or toll-free at (888) 228-3860 to discuss your case in a free consultation.

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