Charter boat is a term used to describe any waterborne vessel which can be leased or rented for a wide range of activities. Charter boats are used across the world and are popular among fishing enthusiasts, tourists, environmentalists, and surveyors. However, many persons are seriously injured or killed in charter boat accidents resulting from unseaworthiness, misconduct or negligence on the part of the captain, owner, or members of the crew.
Charter Boating: Dangerous Pastime
Charter boats come in two categories: bareboat and full service. A bareboat charter involves the rental of a fishing boat or yacht without a crew. The person or parties involved in renting usually operate the vessel and provide the necessary food, water, fuel, and other supplies. In most cases when many individuals share the expenses of a bareboat charter, they choose the most experienced member of the group as the master/captain. While this makes sense nautically, this can have legal consequences if an accident or other negative incident takes place.
Full service charters involve the lease or rental of a vessel with a crew and master/captain. The vessel owner is responsible for making sure the yacht or fishing vessel is stocked with provisions and fuel. Vessel owners are required to make sure that the boat or yacht is seaworthy in all respects.
Tragically, hundreds of accidents on charter boats cause serious injuries or deaths at sea. Some of these accidents occur due to unforeseen circumstances such as rogue waves or an inaccurate weather forecast, but most charter boat accidents or incidents are caused by operator error, misconduct, or neglect.
In 2004, The Lady D, a chartered water taxi, rolled over and killed five passengers in Baltimore because it was excessively overloaded. The vessel’s owner failed to take into account that the Coast Guard’s assumption that an average passenger weighs 140 pounds had not changed since 1942. The average passenger currently weighs 168 pounds. There were 25 persons aboard the Lady D. The excess weight made the vessel unstable and it capsized when it was hit by a strong gust of wind.
In July 2011, the Erik, a charter boat on a fishing trip off the coast of Mexico sank when it was caught in the Sea of Cortez by a freak storm, killing eight of the 43 persons aboard. A joint U.S.-Mexican investigation found that the captain and crew were negligent. The Erik had been extensively modified in such a way that it was unstable on the water. Additionally, the investigation report cites the captain and crew of the Erik for not issuing safety instructions to the 27 passengers. The captain also failed to give the order to abandon ship when the Erik began to founder in the heavy seas kicked up by the storm.
In August 2012, the Priceless, a 50-foot charter boat, sank off Fisher Island, Connecticut after hitting offshore rocks. 10 persons and a dog were aboard when the boat went down. One passenger, Mary Patenaude, drowned. The nine surviving passengers and the dog were rescued.by other boaters who came to their aid.
In June 2013, one man died and two were injured when their 24-foot bay boat was hit by a 32-foot crew boat on the Mississippi River’s Flat Boat Pass south of Venice, Louisiana.The bay boat’s captain, 33-year-old Steven Malcolm, was killed. One of the two injured men suffered severe head trauma as a result of the collision. No one on the crew boat was hurt.
Common Charter Boat Incidents, Accidents, and Injuries
Though many people charter boats to go on pleasure cruises, fishing expeditions and whale sightseeing trips are popular activities, they aren’t aware of the many risks they are taking. The maritime environment attracts tourists and adventurers for its beauty and majestic power, but it can be treacherous and dangerous. If a charter boat captain and crew are negligent, behave improperly, or operate an unseaworthy vessel, the passengers are at risk of being injured, killed, or even becoming the victims of a crime.
These are some of the most common accidents, incidents, and injuries that occur on charter boats:
- Amputations by swinging doors or hatches caused by sailing on rough waters
- Rape or physical assault by a member of the crew or an intoxicated passenger
- Slip and fall accidents caused by a wet deck or spilled substances
- Trip and fall accidents caused by uneven decks, raised thresholds, or misplaced objects
- Accidents caused by drunk crew members, passengers, or guests
- Eating contaminated food which causes severe illness
- Fractures and broken bones caused by sailing on heavy seas
- Traumatic head injuries and other serious physical effects caused by improper docking, collisions, and groundings
- Injuries or deaths caused by inappropriate operation of a boat resulting in collisions or groundings
- Disappearances and falls overboard
If a charter boat passenger or guest has been seriously injured as a result of negligence by the owner, master, crew member, or another passenger, federal maritime law allows the right to seek compensation through legal action. This compensation covers past and future medical bills, lost past and future wages, pain and suffering, as well as rehabilitation costs.