If You Are Involved in a Boating Accident in NC, What Is the First Thing You Must Do?

The beautiful and scenic waterways within the state of North Carolina are managed by the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission. It is the job of the commission to post and enforce the rules of the water in and around North Carolina. In addition, the North Carolina Coastal Resources Commission also has power over coastal waters.

The North Carolina Wildlife Resource Commission is who you should report to in the event of a boating accident in North Carolina waters. However, the first thing you must do is ensure that everyone involved is unharmed. Seek medical attention immediately for those who might have been injured in the boating accident. Once everyone is deemed unharmed, or properly treated by medical professionals on scene or taken to a local hospital, you can then report your accident to the commission.

However, the commission states that it is the responsibility and obligation of every boat operator to take all necessary actions and precautions to avoid an accident. They recommend the following rules to stay safe on the water:

  • File a float plan with a reliable person whom you can depend on to notify the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) or other rescue organization if you do not return when expected. This document should include your essential information and details of your boating excursion, including your return date. This form should not be filed with the USCG because they will not know whether you return or not. It should be given to someone who knows how to check that you returned safely.
  • Do not litter, which includes placing, throwing, depositing, or discharging trash into the public waters of inland North Carolina. Trash is defined as litter, raw sewage, cans, bottles, paper, or other liquid or solid materials. If cited for littering, it is a misdemeanor charge in North Carolina. Not only is debris unsightly and unsafe for the environment, but it is also dangerous to boaters and can cause accidents.
  • When passing another vessel going in the same direction, the overtaken vessel should maintain course and speed while the passing vessel keeps sufficient distance from the other boat to avoid a collision or wake that could endanger the other craft.

Uniform Waterway Markers

Always pay attention to and obey the rules of the uniform waterway markers. The Uniform Waterway Marking System has been accepted for use on North Carolina public waters. The system facilitates water traffic, similar to how motor traffic is navigated on highways. Boaters must become familiar with this system, and its markers and signs, to navigate the waters properly and safely. Below is a summary for each marker and sign:

  • An all-red buoy is a companion buoy to the all-green buoy. Vessels should pass between these two icons, keeping the red buoy starboard (on the right) when boating upstream or entering a channel from the main body of water and the green buoy on the port side (left) when boating upstream or entering a channel from the main body of water. Red and green buoys are used in conjunction with each other, with red marking the edge of a well-defined channel. Red buoys may have white, even numbers on them and a conical “nun” buoy top. Green buoys will always have odd numbers and a flat top.
  • A diamond-shaped buoy with a cross means “Boats Keep Out” (for swimmers).
  • The diamond-shaped sign warns of danger, such as a dam, rock, snag, dredge, ferry cable, wing-dam, construction, or wreckage, among other things.
  • A circle means the area is controlled as indicated. Messages that may appear in the circle include wake/slow wake, no swim, no ski, no scuba, etc.
  • A rectangle provides directional information, such as where to find food, gas, oil, boat repairs, etc.
  • A mooring buoy has a blue band halfway up between its top and the water line. It has no regulatory or navigational significance but is used as an anchor or identification of ownership.
  • A diver’s flag signifies the presence of a diver.

Reporting an Accident

The North Carolina Wildlife Resource Commission requires all boating accidents or incidents that include injury, death, or disappearance be reported to their agency within 48 hours via their 24-hour toll-free phone number. All other incidents can be reported within 10 days. Boat operators, or vessel owners, are required to submit a written account of any accident that involves:

  • The loss of someone’s life
  • An injured person who required medical treatment outside of standard first aid
  • An injured person who has been unconscious for 24 hours
  • Physical damage to the vessel that exceeds $2,000
  • A person who disappeared from the vessel, potentially due to death or injury

FAQs About North Carolina Boating Accident Laws

​What Are Boat Operators Required to Do When Involved in an Accident in North Carolina?

If the boat accident involves injury, death, disappearance, or damage worth $2,000 or more, the accident must be reported immediately to the North Carolina Wildlife Resource Commission within 48 hours of the incident’s occurrence or within 10 days for other boating accidents in which there were no injuries or loss of life.

​What Is a Boat Operator Required to Do First After Witnessing a Boating Accident?

Check that all passengers involved are safe. Stop your vessel at the scene of the accident, if it is safe to do so, and help anyone who might be injured from the accident if you can safely do so. Report the accident to the authorities. If medical assistance is needed, call 911. Cooperate with any investigation at the scene or in the future.

​When Two Boats Are About to Collide, Which Operator Is Legally Responsible?

The answer to this question is both. Both boat operators are responsible for not colliding, and both are responsible if they do collide. Staying knowledgeable about boating rules, guidelines, right of way, and how to navigate the waters as a boat operator is imperative to preventing boating accidents on the water.

​Where Can I Learn About the Rules of the Water?

Both the Vessel Operator’s Guide published by the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission and the North Carolina Coastal Boating Guide published by Wildlife in North Carolina are available as downloadable PDF files. These should be referenced once a year as updates are published. Boaters should be familiar with the rules of the water as set forth in both guides.

Contact Christina Rivenbark & Associates

If you have been involved in a boating accident, the very next thing you should do after reporting the incident is find a Wilmington Boating Accident Lawyer who can advise you going forward. Contact Christina Rivenbark & Associates today to schedule a consultation and discuss your boating accident case with an experienced attorney on our legal team.

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