Safety is of paramount importance when boating, and knowing what to do in an emergency is key to keeping such situations manageable. With this in mind, what is the first action required of a boat operator involved in a boating accident?

A boat operator must first respond to any immediate danger to the boat, its passengers or himself, ensuring the safety of all. We’ll cover this and other important actions to take.

Keep reading to learn more.

Response of boaters to accidents


If you are involved in a boating accident, what is the first thing you should do? As a watercraft operator, there are a set of actions you must take immediately after an unfortunate boating incident. The safety of your passengers is your top priority, but there are other considerations as well.

  • Facing any immediate danger

The first action required in the event of a boating accident is to ascertain the immediate risks or dangers and react accordingly. Make sure all passengers are accounted for and determine their current status. Make sure everyone is properly equipped with PFDs in case the problem escalates.


It’s a good idea to stop the engine and keep the ship from moving while you assess your situation.

In some cases, it can be dangerous to leave the ship as it is or to stay in the same place where the incident occurred; reposition or move your boat as you see fit. However, stay close to the incident area to avoid being accused of dodging responsibility.


It is important to seek help quickly. Use a VHF radio, which is more reliable than a cell phone. Make sure you have relevant information such as your location, the specifics of the emergency, the number of passengers on board and your vessel details at hand.

  • Ensuring the safety and well-being of passengers

You can now take more time to check everyone on board. Apply first aid if necessary. This helps reassure others that the situation is still under control.

When is a boat operator required to help an injured person? Even for someone who hasn’t been involved in a boating accident, you have to help others. This is especially true for a person involved in the accident, regardless of who is at fault.

However, this only applies if help is available to the boater. While rendering assistance in such situations could put the boat or its passengers in danger, the operator should not attempt anything on their own and concentrate instead on calling for help.

Check the boat for any damage and assess its ability to function. If the ship has suffered heavy damage, determine whether it is best to evacuate the ship.

  • Wait for the arrival of the authorities

Anyone involved in an accident is required to await the arrival of the nautical authorities at the scene of the incident. Early departure is punishable by law and may result in fines or imprisonment.

The exception to this is if a resulting injury is severe enough that immediate medical attention is sought. In such a situation, an operator can leave and then return to the scene.

While waiting for the competent authorities, collect and exchange information to file an accident report. Provide your identification and contact information to other relevant parties. Taking photos of any damage to the vessel can also help your insurance claim.

Report an accident


When a boater is involved in an accident, there is a good chance that it will be necessary to make a declaration to the competent authorities. But when do you have to report a boating accident immediately and how much time do you have?

The following situations are specified by the USCG as those that require a deposit.

  • The incident resulted in the death of everyone
  • There’s an injury that can’t be treated with first aid alone
  • The disappearance of anyone
  • Total loss of a boat
  • Any damage to a vessel or property exceeds $2,000 (varies by state)

There is also a suitable window for submitting details of an incident to the authorities. However, this varies depending on the circumstances.

For incidents involving a death within 24 hours of an incident, the report must be made within 48 hours.

If a person is injured or missing when there is a risk of serious injury or death, the 48-hour window is also respected.

For any other situation, the boaters concerned have a maximum of 10 days.

Remember that failure to follow these guidelines will result in legal liability, so it is important to keep this in mind.


What is the first action required of a boat operator who is involved in a boating accident? Now you know what steps to take, including what you need to file a report with the proper authorities. It’s best to avoid any accidents, but knowing all of this helps.

If you have any comments and suggestions or want to share any of your own experiences, feel free to drop them below.

Remember to navigate safely.