No one expects an accident to occur when they’re out enjoying the open water. But unfortunately, boating accidents do happen. Recreational boat accidents in the U.S. have been steadily increasing since 2013, with 4,463 accidents reported in 2016 alone. Those accidents totaled a staggering $49 million in property damage and well over half of them involved injuries.

Just as there are certain protocols a person follows after an auto accident on the road, boating accidents are no different. No matter the severity of your accident, boat drivers should adhere to these steps if involved in an accident on water:

Check on your passengers

If you have any passengers onboard at the time of the incident, your first step should be taking stock of their injuries and checking that no one has fallen overboard. It’s critical that everyone puts a life jacket on if they aren’t already wearing one, especially if the boat is damaged or at risk of sinking. If possible, drop your anchor to avoid drifting and ensure you and your crew are okay.

Contact emergency services

After taking stock of the parties involved in your accident, your next step will be contacting emergency service providers. If you have a working cell phone, you can call 911. If you are using a VHF marine radio, you can put out a distress call on channel 16. Let the emergency workers know how many people you have onboard, the type of assistance you need and whether anyone needs medical attention.

Gather evidence and information

After you have contacted emergency services, you’ll want to document as many details as possible about the accident, including the time and place it occurred. If the accident involved another boater, take down the make, model and registration number of their boat along with the contact and insurance information of the driver. Take pictures if you are able. If there are any eyewitnesses, be sure to get their information as well.

Report the accident

Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) requires that all boat accidents be reported to the department within 30 days of the incident. You’ll need to submit the full details of the accident or collision in accordance with the state’s regulations. It is also your responsibility to report the accident to law enforcement or TPWD within 48 hours if:

  • The accident resulted in a fatality
  • A person required medical care beyond first aid
  • The damage to a vessel or property exceeds $2,000.

Mishaps can happen even to the most careful drivers. If you are involved in a boating collision, it’s essential to know what steps to take to ensure you are safe and compensated fairly for the incident.