Avoiding Passenger Injuries

Examples and tips that hopefully will keep you and your passengers safe this season…

Accidents happen every day on boats and it’s quite frequent that an injury to a passenger resulting in an insurance claim, and extensive litigation.  It’s a very unfortunate situation when an incident arises where you need to file an insurance claim for a passenger injury.  We have seen many already in 2023, they happen more often than you’d think.  There are things you can do as a charter vessel owner and captain to reduce the chances of, or even avoid, an injury to your passengers or crew. 

The #1 cause of injuries on charter boats is due to passengers and crew not being seated properly or standing while under way or in unfavorable conditions. Rough seas can be the culprit, but the way you respond to that is your responsibility.  Know the weather and sea conditions before you leave the dock.

  • A crew member on a 42’ Dive Boat fell recently when they were in rough water, injuring their neck and spine. The injury was settled for $200,000 in medical costs and physical therapy.


  • Also, a passenger on a 25’ Center Console charter boat came off their seat when the vessel hit a large wave, landed hard on the deck and had to go the hospital to have emergency surgery for a spine injury.  The injury settlement was over $750,000.

These accidents resulting in injury could have been avoided by either slowing down, providing clear passenger instruction, or by avoiding taking passengers out in rough sea conditions all together.

Injury claims happen more often on smaller boats.  They are more “tippy” than larger vessels in rough water, hit waves harder, they are typically faster, and they do not always have proper seating for the number of passengers aboard.  Know your vessels capabilities, what seas it can safely handle, know how many passengers can be safely seated, and slow down.  Too many times we see captains pushing the limits of a small boat resulting in a passenger’s injury or death.  Use the right tool for the job. 

Another important circumstance surrounding serious injury claims is daylight. Many serious injuries and accidents have occurred when during low-light/ dark conditions.  It is difficult to see what’s in front of you so you’re much more likely to make contact with another boater, or even a jetty or a pier.  Slow down.  Operating small vessels at night with very limited navigation equipment is a recipe for disaster.  Best to avoid it.

Many slip and fall accidents occur while boarding or disembarking the vessel.  Instructing use of handrails/hand holds and assisting passenger on and off your vessel is very important in this business.  Most passengers are just not very boat savvy.  Providing clear instruction on boat safety is very helpful to avoiding injury.  Don’t assume passengers know how or where to board and exit off your vessel, or when they should be sitting down and where, or where hazards are such as hatches, ropes, and steps.

  • Recently a passenger aboard a 31’ Center Console fell while exiting the boat using a unfixed cooler as a step which collapsed, and the passenger broke a leg. The claim was over $300,000.


  • Another example of a recent accident involving very bad injuries to multiple passengers after a 46’ SportFish charter boat did not see another boater and hit them head on. This claim was settled for over $500,000 for injuries to the other vessel's passengers. Luckily there were no fatalities.

There are definitely things you can do to prevent an accident. Pay attention to passengers and surroundings, don’t take chances on bad weather conditions, chose the right boat for the job, provide clear safety instructions to your passengers, slow down, and make sure you have the appropriate liability Insurance to protect yourself.  

Tight Lines and safe boating!

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