Unlike motor vehicle accidents, where responsibility for filing a report typically falls on law enforcement officers, you as the operator or owner of a boat involved in an accident are the one required to complete and submit an official accident report. Federal regulations require the operator – or owner if the operator is unable to complete the report – to file the report with the state boating authority.
The U.S. Coast Guard maintains detailed statistics based on boating accident reports. The resulting data helps the Coast Guard identify boat defects and boater behaviors that cause injuries and take lives. The more accurate and complete the accident report, the better job federal, state and territorial agencies can do to make boating a safe recreational activity. No penalties or citations can be imposed solely on the basis of an accident report.
When You Must File
Guidelines for when to file can get a little complicated depending on the severity of the accident and the jurisdiction in which the accident occurs, but here are the basics. Federal law requires a report within 48 hours of an accident that involves a vessel or its equipment if, as a result of that accident, a person dies within 24 hours, a person is injured and requires medical treatment beyond first aid, or a person disappears from the vessel under circumstances that indicate death or injury.
A report must be filed within 10 days of an accident in which damage to vessels and other property totals $2,000 or more, there is a complete loss of any vessel, or a person dies more than 24 hours after the accident.
State laws vary, especially in terms of the property damage threshold. Some jurisdictions require boaters to report accidents with as little as $50 in damage (Alabama), so it’s important to check with your state boating authority.
Of course, when an accident occurs, finding a form to fill out is usually the last thing on anyone’s mind. That’s why the Coast Guard recommends you keep blank accident report forms on board, along with float plans and prelaunch checklists.
How to File
Most states have their own boat accident report form, which may be obtained from the state boating authority. A federal form, which is accepted by many states, can also be downloaded at uscgboating.org. But remember, the form still should be sent to the state boating authority, either in the state where the accident occurred, the state in which the vessel is numbered or, if the vessel does not have a number, the state where the vessel is principally used. The state boating authority will review the accident report, determine a cause and forward the information to the Coast Guard.
The state boating authority is typically the Department of Natural Resources; Department of Fish, Game, and Wildlife; state police or similar agency. If you are unsure, you can find out online at nasbla.org. Click on “People,” then “State Boating Contacts.”
Filing an insurance claim is no substitute for filing a boat accident report, and filing a report does not substitute for filing an insurance claim. Contact your boat insurance agency for instructions and forms related to insurance claims.