According to the 2022 Recreational Boating Incident Summary, Virginia had 87 reportable incidents. A reportable boating accident involves injury, death, disappearance, or property damage of at least $2,000. These accidents caused 17 deaths and 39 injuries.

Boat accidents, like car accidents, fall under negligence law. Thus, determining who is responsible for the fatalities, injuries, and property losses resulting from the crash will depend on how the accident happened and who caused it.

Speeding on the Water

Excessive speed tied for the fourth-most common cause of boat crashes in the Virginia survey. It was also the fourth-most common cause of boat accidents in the Coast Guard’s Recreational Boating Statistics report for 2022.

Boaters often have difficulty judging speed and distance while on the water. Boats do not have speedometers, so you must rely on your navigational system to tell you how fast you are traveling.

While operating on water, you also lack landmarks like those you have while driving on land. As a result, boaters must pay much closer attention to speed than drivers.

Speeding creates several problems. Waves and wakes can flip a boat over when traveling at excessive speeds. Obstacles also come up faster when speeding. And since boats lack brakes, you do not have an effective way to slow down.

Lack of Proper Boating Education

Operator inexperience was the second-most common cause of boat accidents in the boating incident survey. Inexperience and a lack of education contribute to other causes of boating accidents.

For example, inexperienced boaters might violate boating laws and rules because they do not know them. Similarly, they might speed because they do not understand how fast they should travel to operate safely.

Virginia is aware of this issue and, as of 2016, fully implemented boating education requirements. Operators of boats with motors more powerful than 10 horsepower must complete a boating safety course. Operators 14 or older of personal watercraft, like a jet ski, must pass the same class.

Operating Under the Influence

Drugs and alcohol were not necessarily a major cause of boat accidents. However, they were a significant contributor to fatal boat accidents. Virginia identified intoxication as a factor in over 23% of fatal boat accidents in 2022.

Intoxication affects an operator’s judgment and decision-making. Drugs and alcohol can slow an operator’s reflexes. They can also interfere with the operator’s ability to estimate speed or distance.

Failing to Follow Waterway Rules

Virginia lists navigation rules violations as the fourth-most common cause of boat accidents in 2022, tied with excessive speed. Coast Guard statistics report navigation rule violations as the eighth-most common cause of boat accidents nationwide using a much larger data sample.

Inadequate Safety Equipment

According to Virginia’s survey, 94% of boaters killed in 2022 were not wearing life jackets. Personal floatation devices will not prevent accidents, but wearing a life jacket could be one of the most effective ways to avoid boating deaths.

Distracted Boating

Improper surveillance was the top reason for boat accidents in Virginia in 2022 according to the survey. Over 60% of boat crashes blamed by the survey on operator error resulted from inadequate lookout.

When boaters fail to pay attention to their surroundings, they can collide with:

  • Other vessels
  • Submerged trees and rocks
  • Docks
  • Bridge supports

A collision, particularly one that occurs at high speed, can knock occupants overboard. It may also damage the hull, causing the vessel to take on water.

Improper surveillance can happen for many reasons. A common reason is distracted boating. Many operators pay less attention when operating a watercraft than they do when driving a motor vehicle. They believe that since they have more space from other vessels, they do not need to pay close attention to them.

Also, the same activities that can distract drivers will distract boaters. Eating and drinking, reading navigational devices, and even talking to passengers can take a boater’s attention, eyes, and hands away from watching for and avoiding obstacles.

Reckless Behavior

“Recklessness” in a legal context usually means the person acted despite knowing their actions endangered others. Reckless boating might include:

  • Weaving around vessels
  • Approaching other vessels too closely
  • Ignoring signals from boats towing water skiers
  • Overloading the vessel
  • Speeding in swimming areas or near docks

Recklessness does not appear in the statistical reports by Virginia or the Coast Guard. Instead, they list the specific violation rather than “recklessness” as the cause of accidents.


Here are some answers to questions people also ask about boating accident cases.

What Does a Boat Accident Attorney Need to Prove in a Boat Accident Lawsuit?

Boat accident claims are based on negligence law. Negligence happens when a boat operator fails to exercise reasonable care, and that failure injures the victim. “Reasonable care” means the level of care a boater with ordinary skill, knowledge, and prudence would exercise in the same situation.

Who Pays Damages for Boating Accident Injuries?

If a boater has liability insurance, the insurer will pay for any losses caused when the boater negligently hits swimmers or other watercraft. However, Virginia law does not require boat owners to carry liability insurance.

When boaters have no insurance, they may be personally liable for any injuries or property damage they cause through negligence.

Can Boating Accident Attorneys Pursue Claims if the Operator Did Not Receive a Citation?

Your attorney can use the fact that a boater received a citation to prove that they failed to exercise reasonable care when the violation related to a safety law. If they did not receive a citation, the lawyer can still prove negligence by showing that the other boater acted in an unreasonably careless way.

For example, Virginia’s law against texting while driving does not apply to boats. But your lawyer can argue that texting while boating constitutes negligence due to the unreasonable danger it creates.

Contact a Boat Accident Lawyer About Your Injuries

Boat accidents are dangerous because even a minor injury can lead to drowning. Contact Commonwealth Law for a free consultation to discuss your boat accident and your options for pursuing financial compensation for your injuries.

If you have been injured at work or through the negligence of another individual or entity, contact us at (804) 999-9999 or or use the form below to connect with our legal team. We will fight to get you the justice you deserve.