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Boat Accidents

Ontario has more than 250,000 lakes containing about one-fifth of the world's fresh water. Add the tens of thousands of navigable rivers, streams or ponds, and boaters are certainly spoiled for choice of places to explore. According to public opinion research, more than 40 percent of adults in Canada participate in boating activities, and a quarter of non-boaters expressed interest in becoming involved in the activity. 

While most boating excursions are either enjoyable or uneventful, each year hundreds of people are seriously hurt while out on the water, and dozens of people are fatally injured. Boating accident injuries frequently cause life-changing disabilities, particularly if a near drowning results in brain damage. Unfortunately, there are limitations within applicable laws that prevent boating accident victims from receiving the same kinds of compensation available to people in motor vehicle accidents or other personal injury cases.

If you or a loved one suffered a serious boating injury, retaining an experienced, knowledgeable and skilled personal injury lawyer can be a critical factor to consider as you seek the compensation you deserve for your losses. Gluckstein Personal Injury Lawyers is one of the country’s top personal injury law firms. We have a strong reputation for results and are renowned for our commitment to compassionate full-circle client care. Contact us to learn how we can be there for you in your time of need.

A pleasurable pastime and more.

Boating activities in Ontario.

The vast majority of boating excursions in Ontario are for private recreational purposes. However, some businesses operate boats for tours, transportation or shipping purposes. Some common boating types and activities include:

  • Powerboats and yachts.
  • Fishing boats.
  • Canoes.
  • Kayaks.
  • Paddle boats.
  • Sailboats.
  • Jet skis and personal watercraft.
  • Tour boats.
  • Ferries. 
  • Commercial shipping.

Licensing and Rules.

Since most people in Ontario who partake in boating activities will use private watercraft, it is important to know what is required before you set out on the water - especially since forty percent of boaters set out without the legally required equipment.

Transport Canada mandates all persons operating boats with a motor show proof of competency (including low horsepower trolling motors and sailboats, even when the motor is not in operation). Proof of competency options include a:

  • Pleasure Craft Operator Card (PCOC).
  • Certificate from a Canadian boating safety course completed before April 1, 1999.
  • Professional marine certificate or equivalent. 
  • Completed Rental Boat Safety Checklist (solely acceptable for the duration of the rental period).
  • An operator card or other document that meets the requirements of a visitor/tourist’s home state or country.

Proof of competency is not required for boats operated in Nunavut or the Northwest Territories, or for a visitor to Canada operating their own boat for less than 45 consecutive days while in the country.

There are also special rules for young boaters. Without direct supervision, youth under the age of 12 may only operate a boat with a motor of up to 10 hp/7.5 kW, and youth aged 12–15 may only operate a boat with a motor of up to 40 hp/30 kW. No one under the age of 16 is permitted to operate a personal watercraft (PWC) even with supervision.

Safety equipment and good safety practices.

The type of equipment required to operate a boat depends on both the size and type of vessel. Prior to departing, you should ensure the boat has appropriate safety equipment, including, but not limited to:

  • Properly sized life jackets, personal floatation devices and buoyant heaving lines.
  • Enough seats for all passengers.
  • A full stocked first-aid kit.
  • Flares, watertight flashlights, whistles, radios.
  • Paddles, items to bail out or pump out water, anchors.
  • Compasses and navigation equipment.
  • Boat lights and reflectors.
  • Extinguishers and other fire-fighting equipment. 

You are also advised to bring water, snacks, sunscreen/hats and cell phones in case you find yourself stranded on the boat or on the shore for an extended period of time. 

Prior to departing, you should make sure that someone on shore knows:

  • Your plans.
  • The general route you will take.
  • What time you expect to return.

All equipment on the boat and the boat itself should be inspected to ensure there are no maintenance issues. Checklists will help ensure you have everything you need and the boat is in good repair. Also be sure to check the weather forecast prior to leaving, and monitor the weather and water conditions while boating. Make sure to have a plan for getting back to shore if you encounter rough waters.

You should never operate a boat while under the influence of alcohol or other intoxicating drugs. Impaired boating is illegal and punishable with fines, boat seizures and even prison terms. Passengers who have been drinking are also at a greater risk for injury and particularly for falling out of the boat. Forty percent of all boating fatalities are linked to alcohol consumption. 

If you are out on unfamiliar waters, it is good practice to exercise extra caution. Your boat may encounter unexpected hazards such as rapids, sand bars, rocks, branches and logs that can cause it to capsize, collide or run aground. On busy lakes, rivers or canals, adhere to proper boat traffic rules and avoid shipping and/or ferry routes.

Accidents and injuries.

Research into boating accidents suggest the most common reasons for these incidents are:

  • Alcohol and drug use.
  • Boat operator inexperience.
  • Lack of adequate supervision (of children).
  • Distracted driving or failure to have a dedicated person as a lookout (collisions).
  • Excessive speed.
  • Mechanical failures and defects.
  • Inclement weather and/or dangerous water conditions.

However, an accident occurs, the nature of boating as an activity has significant consequences for the type of injury a person may sustain.

Drowning or near drownings are a cause of the majority of boating fatalities and a significant portion of brain injuries (oxygen deprivation). Life jackets and personal floatation devices offer excellent protection in the event a person falls into the water, but 90 percent of boat drownings occur when a person is not wearing this equipment. Other brain injuries can be caused by carbon monoxide poisoning (from a docked or idling motor) or blunt force trauma from collisions.

Spinal cord injury from collisions or herniated discs from rough waters can cause pain and suffering, nerve damage, and paralysis in the most serious cases. Neck injuries/whiplash can also result if unexpected or sudden movement of the vessel occurs.

Lacerations and amputations have occurred when motor propellers have struck drivers, passengers who have fallen in the water, or swimmers.

Liability for injuries.

Businesses that carry passengers for a fee must have at least $250,000 in insurance per passenger, but there is no requirement for private recreational boaters to have insurance for their pleasure crafts.

If you own a boat, it is strongly advisable to research insurance policies for your vessel. These policies can protect you from financial ruin if you were at fault for an injury-causing boat accident involving another person, and also if you were the owner of the vessel driven by another with your permission.

Moreover, some of these policies include accident benefits similar to those available under the Statutory Accident Benefits Schedule, also known as ("SABS"), for automobile-related accidents. While anyone involved in a motor vehicle accident is eligible to apply for SABS, people injured in boating accidents are not eligible for these benefits.

If you have been injured in a boat accident where someone else is partially or fully at-fault for your injuries, you may be able to make a claim for compensation under the Marine Liability Act. However, barring exceptional circumstances, the maximum amount you can recover for loss of life or injury in such an accident is $1 million (and $500,000 for other claims). 

While that may seem like a lot of money, if your injuries are severely disabling, medical expenses and/or attendant care can quickly exhaust such compensation. What’s more, the $1 million cap is for all injuries resulting from the particular accident and may have to be split among multiple people with severe injuries.

Usually the only way to breach this cap is to convince a court that the negligent person not only understood their actions were reckless and would probably cause injury, but also deliberately proceeded to act in such a manner. This is a difficult standard to meet in all but the most exceptional cases.

You need an experienced personal injury lawyer.

Injuries from boating accidents can change your life. If you or a loved one was involved in a boating accident that left them injured, with a long-term disability, or killed, learning of the significant limitations in potential accident benefits and compensation can make matters seem even more bleak. Choosing a knowledgeable, experienced and skilled boating accident lawyer can be a critical decision for your case.

As one of Canada’s top personal injury law firms, Gluckstein Personal Injury Lawyers has a strong reputation for getting results for clients with these kinds of complex and challenging cases.

You should know that you are not alone. With our renowned commitment to full-circle client care, our lawyers in Toronto, Ottawa, Niagara, and Barrie will be there to support you every step of the way in your legal case and as you recover, rehabilitate and rebuild your life in the aftermath of a tragedy.

To learn more about how our boating accident team can help you and your loved ones seek justice when someone’s negligence has caused you harm, contact us for a no cost, no obligation consultation. 

Ontario Boating Accident Lawyers.

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