While there are specific laws and regulations relative to operating on waterways, as a general rule, operators of watercraft (boats, jet skis, etc.) are subject to the same liability standards as an operator of any motor vehicle. Simply put, the owner or operator of a boat or jet ski may be liable for injuries proximately caused by that owner’s negligence or recklessness. The mere happening of a watercraft accident, however, does not necessarily mean that an owner or operator was negligent or reckless.
The ocean is unpredictable and can certainly hide unseen dangers. Notwithstanding, the initial question will be whether the operator was acting reasonably under the circumstances. In other words, whether a reasonable operator would have acted the same under the same or similar circumstances. (i.e. Was he going too fast given the conditions? Should she have been aware of and avoided the reef? Was she operating too close to shore?). These questions may be the subject of expert testimony, common sense or both.
Unbeknownst to some watercraft operators, the same standards that apply to operating a motor vehicle under the influence of drugs or alcohol also apply to boats and jet skis. That is, operating a vessel (any watercraft) with a blood alcohol level of .08 or greater, or under the influence of drugs, is against the law. In addition to criminal penalties, violation of any such safety statute is evidence of negligence in a civil matter. Likewise, knowingly getting on or in a vessel that is being operated by an individual who is under the influence may also be negligent.
If an accident occurs, a boat operator involved in an accident also has a duty under Massachusetts Law to render such assistance to a victim of the accident as may be practical or necessary in order to save them from any danger caused by the accident.
Boating and jet skiing are entertaining and fun. But owners and operators must be aware of the laws and regulations and their duties and obligations. Accidents can occur and people can get seriously injured.