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2016 California Boating Law Updates Life Jacket Requirements for Children 13 and Under


A new bill signed into law on July 14, 2015 by Governor Jerry Brown expands the current law mandating that children ages 13 and under to wear a United States Coastal Guard-approved life jacket or personal flotation device from vessels under 26 feet in length to all vessels of any length.

There are a few exceptions, however, such as when the child is inside an enclosed cabin, they are tethered to a sailboat, engaged in an emergency rescue, participating in an organized event or operating specific federally-regulated vessels.

The Governor’s approved the bill AB 638, which is authored by Assembly Member Jim Frazier (D-Oakley), will apply to all sizes of apply to boats including sailboats. Previously, the state law required children under 13 to wear a personal floatation device aboard vessels that were 26 feet or smaller.

The bill, which obtained a unanimous 76 to 0 approval in the Assembly, will become law on Jan. 1, 2016. Beginning next year, this law will require that boat operators refrain from driving the vessel if the child is not wearing the personal floatation device.

In California, there were 39 people who died in boating accidents and one out of every five deaths was a child under age 14, according to statistics by the California State Parks Division of Boating and Waterways.

According to statistics compiled by the U.S. Coast Guard, there were 672 people killed and 3,153 injured in 4,604 boating incidents in the United States in 2010. Roughly 72 percent of the deaths were due to drowning and 88 percent of the victims were not wearing personal floatation devices.

Top 10 Causes of Boating Accidents in California

The number one cause of all boating accidents resulting in injury or death is a collision between boaters. In fact, a third of all California boating accidents among all vessels involves a collision, but what are the main causes of boating accidents?

    • Inattention by operator
    • Inexperienced operator
    • Speed
    • Unknown
    • Passenger or skier behavior
    • Weather
    • Machinery failure
    • Improper anchoring
    • Wake
    • Failure of equipment

Source: California State Parks Division of Boating and Waterway

Liability for California Boating Accidents

A boating accident is governed by both state laws and federal maritime laws. If there is a collision involving injuries, death or property damage more than $2,000, the boat operator or owner is required to file a boating accident report to the state. This report may be obtained by those involved as evidence for a potential personal injury claim.

Under California law, one or more boat operators may be held responsible for another person’s injuries or losses if they are deemed to be negligent. There are laws that guide boaters on who has the right of way, speed and safety regulations. A boat owner or operator who failed to exercise due diligence to protect passengers and others may be held liable for their injuries and losses.

Boat operators can also be held liable if they do not provide adequate safety to passengers by having sufficient life jackets, navigational tools and fire extinguishers.

Additionally, boat operators may not drive while under the influence of alcohol or drugs, they must maintain their vessel so it is safe and follow all rules and state laws.

What to do after a boating accident?

If you have been injured or lost a loved one in a boating accident and you believe another party is responsible, contact Johnson Attorneys Group at 800-235-6801 for a free consultation with a personal injury attorney.

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