As summer winds down, Massachusetts boat owners are flocking to the water to fit in a few final boat trips with friends and family. It is important as a boat owner to take precautions and understand your responsibilities before leaving the dock to ensure a safe enjoyable day for you and your passengers!

As a boat owner, you may be held liable for any injury or damage on or around your boat.

Before You Get Underway

Every boat should have all Coast Guard required safety equipment, including life jackets for every passenger, on board at all times. Frequent checks of this equipment and pre and post-trip inspections of your boat should be made to ensure everything is in good working order.

A boat operator should know the weather report and understand the boat’s limitations before setting off.

It is always a good idea to tell a family member, friend or dock master your float plan, which describes your planned day on the water, before heading out. Some of the things that should be included in a float plan are vessel information, including registration number and boat description, planned route, departure and return times and your emergency contact information.

While On The Water

Always operate with caution. A boat operator should never drink or use drugs while boating. Not only is it incredibly dangerous, but the penalties for operating a boat under the influence are the same as for motor vehicles. Although there are no posted speed limits on open water, a boat owner is liable for damage caused by his or her boat and for damage caused by the boat’s wake.

In addition to these quick tips, the Massachusetts Environmental Police and the United States Coast Guard are great resources for literature and boating safety course directories.

When An Accident Occurs

If an accident does occur, you have a responsibility to (1) stop your boat immediately, (2) assist anyone injured or in danger (unless doing so would seriously endanger your own safety); and (3) provide your name, address and vessel identification to the other boat operator. Accidents resulting in death or serious injury must be reported to the Massachusetts Environmental Police within 48 hours. All other accidents should be reported within five days on a Boating Accident Report form available from the Massachusetts Environmental Police.

As a boat owner, you may be held liable for any bodily injury or property damage to others caused by your ownership, maintenance or use of the boat. It is imperative that you obtain adequate boat insurance and ensure that your policy includes personal liability coverage.

Even if you are diligent while operating your boat, you can’t ensure that every other boat operator will do the same. Boating accidents can and do occur. The attorneys at SUGARMAN have a history of successfully handling cases involving boating liability and personal injury accidents involving boats. If you have any questions and wish to speak to one of our attorneys about a boating liability case, please fill out a Contact Form, send an e-mail to, or call us at (617) 524-1000.