As spring turns to summer, more and more boaters flock to Louisianaís many lakes, rivers, swamps, bayous, and beaches. According to the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, over two million people enjoy recreational boating activities on Louisiana waters each year. More boaters out on the water increases your chances of collision and injury. A fishing trip in Venice or a day out on the Gulf of Mexico can easily turn from daydream to nightmare. Accidents happen. In the unfortunate event of a boating accident, here are some key rules to remember.1. Know the Louisiana Rules of the Road for Vessels
The first thing to keep in mind is prevention: avoid collisions by knowing the applicable boating safety regulations. In September 2003, the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, Wildlife and Fisheries Commission promulgated the ìRules of the Road for Vessels,î which govern the operation of vessels in Louisiana state waters. Boaters in Louisiana waters must comply with these rules, and any violation is treated as prima-facie evidence of careless or reckless operation.
The Rules of the Road for Vessels are as follows:
- Vessels passing head-on shall each keep to their respective right.
- A vessel overtaking another vessel may do so on either side, but must grant the right-of-way to the vessel being overtaken.
- When vessels are passing at right angles, the vessel on the left will yield right-of-way to vessel on the right.
- Motorboats shall yield right-of-way to non-motor powered boats except as follows:
- When being overtaken by non-powered vessels.
- For deep draft vessels that have to remain in narrow channels.
- When vessel is towing another vessel.
- Motorboats must maintain a direct course when passing sailboats.
- . A vessel approaching a landing dock or pier shall yield the right-of-way to any departing vessel.
- A vessel departing shoreline or tributary shall yield right-of-way to through traffic and vessels approaching shoreline or tributary.
- Vessels will not abruptly change course without first determining that it can be safely done without risk of collision with another vessel.
- If an operator fails to fully comprehend the course of an approaching vessel he must slow down immediately to a speed barely sufficient for steerageway until the other vessel has passed.
- Vessels yielding right-of-way shall reduce speed, stop, reverse, or alter course to avoid collision. Vessel with right-of-way shall hold course and speed. If there is danger of collision, all vessels will slow down, stop, or reverse until danger is averted.
- Vessels will issue warning signals in fog or weather conditions that restrict visibility.
- No mechanically propelled vessel shall be operated so as to traverse a course around any other vessel underway or any person swimming.
- In a narrow channel, vessels will keep to the right of mid-channel.
- Vessels approaching or passing another vessel shall be operated in such manner and at such a rate of speed as will not create a hazardous wash or wake.
- No vessel shall obstruct or interfere with take-off, landing, or taxiing of aircraft.
- All vessels shall be operated at reasonable speeds for given conditions and situations and must be under the complete control of the operator at all times.
- No person shall, under any circumstances, operate a vessel in excess of an established speed or wake zone.
- No vessel or person shall obstruct or block a navigation channel, entrance to channel, mooring slip, landing dock, launching ramp, pier or tributary.
- Vessels shall keep at least 100 feet clearance of displayed diverís flag.
- Operator shall maintain a proper lookout.
Louisiana Revised Statute 34:851.10 governs boating collisions, accidents, and casualties. This statute requires operators of vessels involved in a collision, crash, or other casualty to immediately stop his or her vehicle and render assistance to injured persons as necessary and practicable. This is required to mitigate and minimize any dangers caused by the collision. However, an operator of a vessel is not required to provide assistance if it would create serious danger to his or her own vessel, crew, or passengers.3. Exchange Information and Report Your Accident
Louisiana Revised Statute 34:851.10 also requires the operator of a vessel involved in a collision, crash, or other causality to provide in writing his or her name, address, and the identifying number on his or her vehicle to anyone injured in the accident or to the owner of any damaged property. If the collision, crash, or other casualty involves a recreational vehicle and results in death or serious personal injury in excess of $500, the operator of the vessels involved must provide immediate notice to the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries Law Enforcement Division (ìLDWF/LEDî), nearest law enforcement agency, or state police. He or she must also forward a full description of the collision or casualty on a LDWF-approved incident report form to the LWDF/LED within five days after the accident.
The number to report an incident to LDWF/LED is 1-800-442-2511. The Operator Boating Incident Report can be found on the LDWF webpage.4. Call a Lawyer
Boaters must exercise due care in operating their vessels in order to prevent injuries to passengers, swimmers, and those nearby. A vessel owner is responsible for injuries and damages caused by the careless or reckless operation of his or her vehicle. Louisiana Revised Statute 34:851.4 defines careless operation of a watercraft as operation ìin a careless manner so as to endanger the life, limb, or property of any personÖ.î Reckless operation of a vessel under Louisiana Revised Statute 14:99 is the operation of a vessel in a criminally or reckless manner. According to the Handbook of Louisiana Boating Laws and Responsibilities, examples of reckless operation include: boating in restricted areas; weaving through congested waterway traffic; swerving at the last possible moment to avoid a collision; and chasing, harassing, or otherwise disturbing wildlife. Keep in mind, any violation of the Rules of the Road for vessels is treated as prima-facie evidence of careless or reckless operation.
It is important to note that vessel owners are also responsible for damages and injuries caused by the negligent operation of his or her vehicle by others he or she allows to operate it, such as friends or a family member. Courts will assume that an owner has given consent to operate a vessel if is being operated by an immediate family member.
Lawyers can help victims of boating accidents recover for their injuries, damages, and losses. The Louisiana Revised Statutes provide victims of boating accidents with certain special remedies. For example, Louisiana Revised Statute 34:802 provides that in all cases where injury, loss, or damage occurring in Louisiana waters is caused by carelessness, neglect, or lack of skill in the navigation, direction, or management of a vessel, the victim of such injury has a first lien and privilege on the offending vessel for the amount of injury, loss or damage.
Remember, when daydream turns to nightmare on the open waters, call a lawyer.