7 Steps to Take If You Are Involved in a Boating Accident

While boating offers endless excitement, serenity, and unforgettable adventures, it's essential to acknowledge that accidents can happen even to the most experienced mariners. That's why being prepared for unforeseen circumstances is crucial.

An unforeseen accident can escalate quickly, but meticulous preparation is the key to navigating through the aftermath. To protect you against the unexpected, let's review seven vital steps you should take if you're involved in a boating accident.

How to Navigate a Boating Accident

1. Ensure Everyone's Safety

If you're involved in an accident, the foremost step is to ensure everyone's safety.

First, stop the boat. A quick and methodical headcount can help determine if everyone is accounted for. 

Knowing what to do in a boating accident can be hard to predict, so ensure you have a well-stocked first aid kit onboard and provide immediate attention to injuries. If necessary, call 911 for medical attention.

Learn More: Marine First Aid Kits & Onboard Safety Guide

2. Stay Calm and Alert

The second step, and one that can be the most challenging, is maintaining composure. Panic breeds confusion and impulsive decisions, exacerbating an already tense situation. As the boat's captain, your crew and passengers will look to you for leadership. Make sure everyone is okay!

Develop a swift but thoughtful action plan, keeping an eye on the situation's evolving dynamics. Staying alert can also help you identify potential secondary dangers, like approaching vessels, leaks, or fire hazards.

3. Alert Authorities

With everyone's immediate safety ensured it's time to reach out for help. Use your marine radio to make a mayday or pan-pan call, depending on the severity of your situation. Clearly state the following:

  • Your full name
  • Your boat's name
  • The nature of your emergency
  • Your location
  • The number of people aboard

Repeat your call until you receive an acknowledgment. In some situations, like if you're closer to shore or in a popular boating area, using your cell phone to call local authorities or the Coast Guard can be an effective backup option.

4. Document the Incident 


After placing your call for help, it's time to start documenting the incident. Depending on the situation, this can be a challenging step. Documenting the boating accident while it's fresh in your memory is important. This information can be invaluable for insurance claims and potential legal disputes. 

Jot down details such as the time, location, and weather conditions during the accident. Describe the sequence of events leading up to the incident, and record the damage sustained by the boat. If safe and possible, take photographs or video footage to back up your account.

Learn More: Weather Safety Tips for Boaters

5. Exchange Information

If the accident involved another boat, you should try to exchange information with the other parties, just as you would in a car accident. This exchange should include names, contact information, boat registration numbers, and insurance information. Make sure to note the other boat's make, model, and visible damage.

6. Report the Accident

Depending on your local regulations and the accident's severity, you may be required to report the accident to certain authorities. Typically, you must notify the incident to your state's boating authority and your boating insurance company.

Ensure you understand these reporting requirements and fulfill them as soon as possible. Delaying or neglecting this step can result in legal complications, fines, or difficulties in claiming insurance. When preparing your accident report, ensure it's accurate, clear, and complete.

7. Seek Legal Advice

Considering the potential legal and financial implications of a boating accident, seeking legal advice is a good idea. Maritime law can be complex, and having a lawyer guide you through the process can protect your rights and interests.

A lawyer can help you understand your legal obligations, deal with insurance companies, and handle any disputes or claims that arise. They can also assist you if you need to claim compensation or defend against a claim made by others.


A boating accident can be intimidating. However, if you understand what to do in these situations, you can feel more confident and better handle the situation. 

We hope these seven tips help to guide you to safety and peace of mind in turbulent times.