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Old 10-30-2015, 08:21 AM   #1
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Boat wake liability

Article copied from Seaworthy magazine;

Whether you're in a no-wake zone or not, you are responsible for any injury or damage caused by
your wake.

Let's face it, pretty much all powerboats create a wake. Especially on inland waters, where primarily small craft operate, wakes can be dangerous. Common courtesy toward other boaters demands that we control our wakes. However, the consequences of failing to do so go far beyond rude gestures and horn blasts. Because here's the one thing you really have to know about wakes: under the law, damage caused by your wake is treated exactly the same way as damage caused by a physical, fiberglass-crunching collision.
Imagine the following scene: After a long no-wake zone and an even longer wait for a drawbridge to open, a motoryacht is just passing through the opening. In a stroke of luck, a behind-schedule, in-a-hurry sportfish arrives at the drawbridge already open for the yacht ahead. After clearing the drawbridge, both vessels pick up speed, creating significant wakes.
Ahead of the yacht, just outside the channel, a fisherman is poling a small jon boat on the flats, searching for redfish. Perhaps the operators of both the yacht and the sportfish do not realize how their wakes can combine into a veritable tsunami, or they are just more interested in making it back to the dock than in reducing speed. Regardless, the combined wake of the yacht and sportfish violently rolls the jon boat, causing serious injuries to its passengers. The passengers sue both vessels and their owners for their injuries as well as pain and suffering. It's important to remember that the incident took place outside of any no-wake zone, so neither captain was likely overly concerned about their wakes nor realized the extent of their liability.
Here's an interesting point: Nowhere in the Inland Rules of Navigation will you find any mention of a duty for recreational vessels to control their wakes. Still, our two hypothetical vessels are not saved by the lack of an explicit rule.
Courts applying the General Maritime Law are entitled to interpret the rules of the road to reflect their understanding of the norms of maritime navigation. That means the rules are not necessarily what they say, but what courts think they mean. Courts have used at least two of the navigational rules to hold operators liable for the damage caused by their wakes.
First, courts have ruled that when a vessel's wake collides with another vessel and causes damage, Rule (6) of the Inland Rules applies. This rule provides that each vessel "shall at all times proceed at a safe speed so that she can take proper and effective action to avoid collision." The courts read the word "collision" to include both a collision with a vessel's hull and a collision with its wake. Applied to our motor yacht and sportfish, both failed to proceed at a safe enough speed to prevent their wake from colliding with the jon boat, so they are presumed negligent. The only defense available is for the operators to prove conclusively that their wakes did not cause the injuries to the jon boat passengers, an impossible burden.
Second, courts have used the catch-all rule, Rule 2(b) of the Inland rules, to hold operators liable for their wake. Rule 2(b) provides that "due regard shall be had to all dangers of navigation and collision and to any special circumstances ... which may make a departure from these Rules necessary to avoid immediate danger." As courts read this rule, an operator of a vessel is required to do anything and everything to prevent a collision (including a collision with a vessel's wake). Applied to our motor yacht and sportfish, no defense to liability exists. Neither took any action to prevent a collision between their wakes and the jon boat. Both are equally responsible for all the damage to the jon boat and its passengers.
If you haven't already figured it out, this narrative is based on a true story that resulted in an unhappy ending for those aboard the motoryacht, the sportfish, and the jon boat. If that does not scare you enough, remember that if the owner was operating the vessel, the injured person can come after the owner for any damages in excess of the value of the vessel, and prosecutors can bring criminal charges. The moral of the story is: Watch your wake!
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Old 10-30-2015, 08:27 AM   #2
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I'll get the popcorn! This subject will bring out experts by the ton, no doubt.
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Old 10-30-2015, 04:48 PM   #3
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I'll start.

Actually, you're liable for ANY "negligent operation". Certainly, throwing a wake CAN be negligent. Or not.

I agree that everyone should always be aware of their wake and its impact on everything around them.

But saying that everyone is always responsible for anything their wake does is a bit simplistic. It depends on the location and circumstances whether or not negligence could be proven.
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Old 10-30-2015, 05:19 PM   #4
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So an insurance magazine publishes a puff piece written by two Miami attorneys about a singular court case involving inland rules, and the Court's interpretation of them.

I wonder if the two attorneys who wrote that article represented the plaintiff or the defendant.

I agree with the intent of the article, just not the absolute wording "you are responsible for any injury or damage caused by your wake."

Maybe in Miami...
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Old 10-30-2015, 05:53 PM   #5
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So an insurance magazine publishes a puff piece written by two Miami attorneys about a singular court case involving inland rules, and the Court's interpretation of them.

I wonder if the two attorneys who wrote that article represented the plaintiff or the defendant.

I agree with the intent of the article, just not the absolute wording "you are responsible for any injury or damage caused by your wake."

Maybe in Miami...

Yup- agreed.

The Rules are specifically vague for vessel under 1600 GRT. Operating in s safe a prudent manner for one may mean something totally different for another. This type of situation demands a reasonableness factor form both parties before lawyers get involved.
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Old 10-30-2015, 09:24 PM   #6
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Someone could stack some fine china on a paddleboard and when my jonboat wake tips it over, call me responsible??

There has to be some common sense applied here, and I suspect the courts agree.

When running my big boat I do pay close attention to jonboats, oystermen, kids on docks, boats docking, etc and slow down as needed.

But to say you are responsible for any damage your wake may cause is nonsense. Prudence must be applied by both parties.
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Old 10-31-2015, 12:56 AM   #7
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This is a really hot topic in the Ca Delta

In California it seems that every dock is entitled to slow the traffic to a no wake speed. Ca law requires 5 mph within 200' of any vessel tied to a dock, swimming beach, 100' from any swimmer not involved in water skiing. Nothing requires reduced speed near anchored boats. Nothing is said about wake damage. It seems there is little or no tolerance to the smallest wake by docked boaters. Loud horns, raised middle fingers and disparaging comments are quick to fly. I believe and have preached for years that you are responsible for your wake and the damage it causes. This is the first time I've read about a ruling in court that backs it up. Not every wake causes damage, if common sense ruled the water we wouldn't be having this conversation. I think there is little real knowledge by boaters of what the law is. Local counties can establish speed zones and enforce the law independent of state law. Private individuals as well as marinas set speed buoy's near their private docks without oversight by anyone. If they put buoy's 500' from their dock, but state law says 200' do I have to slow down. It's confusing. Just because someone wants to put a dock on your favorite stretch of ski water does that mean you have to slow down. I have sections of the river where private docks break up good ski runs that have been used for years. I'll pass their dock at 200'+ towing a skier, if my wake rocks your dock tough luck. Usually by 200' my skiboat wake will rock your boat very little but not cause damage. On the other hand if I had a large wake and felt I would damage your boat or dock I would reduce my wake. Same thing applies in open water, if you choose to heat a pot of boiling water, don't whine if it gets knocked over by a passing boat wake. At some point you have to be be prepared for logical situations. If you build a dock on a high traffic river build it strong enough to deal with passing boat traffic. Don't expect the world to come to a stop because you built a dock or want to be on a paddle board. Anchored boats, nothing says 5 mph in a anchorage, it might be the decent thing to do but it isn't a law. Don't yell at me when I zip by you in my rib with a three inch wake, I'll be a couple of hundred ft from you anyway.
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Old 12-02-2015, 10:21 AM   #8
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We have all heard the "You are responsible for your wake." thing hundreds of times but it's pretty hard to enforce. Someone would have to have witnesses or a video recording of your boat making the wake and doing the damage and then they would have to catch you and prove that you were operating the boat.


We should all be aware of our wakes and minimize them where necessary, but it's usually the "other guy" doing the damage. "Other guys" don't know the rules.
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Old 12-02-2015, 02:16 PM   #9
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This has been discussed many times here. Seaworthy has been referred to many times in the discussions. Facts are really simple, you're responsible for any negligent operation of your boat. If that means you create a wake in a situation that wake could reasonably be expected to cause damage, then you're responsible.

There is no absolute to responsibility for wake. It's a grey area. Judgement is involved. Unless marked as a no-wake zone, it's seldom a criminal issue but if damage results often a civil issue. Then like any civil dispute (the irony of calling it civil when it's anything but civil in the sense of civility), it's up to the courts and dueling attorneys, often dueling insurers. Reasonable or not, you can be sued for anything, including the fine china on the paddleboard. How does that differ from suing McDonald's because their coffee is hot and burned when you spilled it on yourself. What often gets omitted is the rest of the story. That infamous McDonald's award was dramatically reduced on appeal and then ultimately a settlement was reached out of court.

You don't think you can lose on the china on the paddleboard? If a jury can be convinced you were malicious and made to feel sorry for the paddleboarder, they might award a verdict.
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Old 12-02-2015, 03:03 PM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by WesK View Post
We have all heard the "You are responsible for your wake." thing hundreds of times but it's pretty hard to enforce. Someone would have to have witnesses or a video recording of your boat making the wake and doing the damage and then they would have to catch you and prove that you were operating the boat
Video recorders are everywhere these days. If I had a dock and was bothered by wakes I might be tempted to set up a permanent video camera, which I could do in an hour with minimal cost.
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Old 12-02-2015, 03:48 PM   #11
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Video recorders are everywhere these days. If I had a dock and was bothered by wakes I might be tempted to set up a permanent video camera, which I could do in an hour with minimal cost.
Then there are those who buy a house that is not in a no wake zone, actually in a PWC and ski approved zone, don't even own a boat and are disturbed over the wake, that it's going to "wear out" their dock. lol

We live on a canal in a section of the ICW that is not a no wake zone. We also live near a ski zone. And we live near a large jet ski rental facility. It was this way when we bought the house. We tie at our docks in such a way as to prevent damage from wakes. The biggest wakes we get are the middle aged couples who have relatively small Boston Whalers and when they load them down and come out from the canals behind us then they create large wakes. But it's part of the life we bought into. This is the norm where we are. For us to have a justified complaint someone would have to do something significantly worse than this norm.
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Old 12-02-2015, 04:02 PM   #12
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Video recorders are everywhere these days. If I had a dock and was bothered by wakes I might be tempted to set up a permanent video camera, which I could do in an hour with minimal cost.
Please do just that and report back in a month or two.
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