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Are there rules of the road for operators of boats?

For many Baltimore residents, one of the more enjoyable activities is hitting the water with family and friends. Whether individuals are engaging in water sports, or simply going for a boat ride, there is much fun to be had on area waterways.

However, along with this fun comes the risk of dangerous incidents occurring on the water. A fatal boating accident can happen at a moment's notice, due to a variety of factors.

In Maryland, there are certain requirements for those involved in boating accidents. Individuals must report accidents to the Department of Natural Resources if persons are killed or injured in the accident. In addition, federal law requires operators to provide assistance to those persons who are in danger on the water.

There are also a number of rules that govern a person's operation of a water vessel. Individuals are barred from operating a vessel in a negligent or grossly negligent manner that endangers others. For example, if operators drive in a swimming area or at an excessive speed near other boats, it may be considered negligent or grossly negligent operation.

Similarly, like operating a vehicle, operators of vessels on the water are prohibited from drinking and driving. Despite this prohibition, about half of all boating accidents involve the use of alcohol.

If individuals violate the above rules or others that apply, they may face penalties from the U.S. Coast Guard or other governmental entities. In addition, if individuals are injured as a result of this conduct, the person may be held liable in a civil lawsuit due to his or her negligent conduct. For instance, in a wrongful death case, the driver who caused a fatal boating accident may be required to pay compensation to the injured person's family, just as would be the case if the accident had occurred in a car.

Source: Maryland DNR, "Recreation Vessels," accessed on Nov. 22, 2014

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