How Do Boat Accidents Commonly Happen?

Boating is an exciting pastime in Missouri, with boaters venturing into popular bodies of water like Lake of the Ozarks and Mark Twain Lake in the summer months. However, these outings can turn tragic when a boating accident happens, resulting in serious injuries or even loss of life.

In 2021, Missouri saw 195 vessel crashes, with 28 fatalities and 122 people injured. On a national level, there were 636 boating fatalities in 2022, attributed to contributing factors like operator inattention or inexperience and excessive speed.

Knowing the risk factors for boating accidents and how to prevent them can keep you safe when enjoying a day on the water. If you’re involved in a collision, our Missouri boat accident lawyers at Cofman Townsley can guide you through the legal process and help you get compensation for injuries or damages.

Boating Accident Risk Factors

Boating accidents can happen for many reasons, but certain factors can increase the risk of a crash. These are typically due to operator negligence and can include the following:

  • Excessive Speed: When boats go too fast, operators have less time to react to unexpected obstacles or changes in water conditions, often leading to crashes. In 2021, incidents attributed to excessive speed resulted in 20 injuries across 24 accidents.
  • Operator Error: Boating accidents frequently occur when operators fail to remain alert, missing crucial signals or hazards. A lack of boater education often means not following navigational rules, increasing the risk of collision. In 2021, 133 out of 234 operators involved in accidents had no boating education.
  • Poor Visibility: Fog, rain, or darkness can severely limit a boater’s ability to see other vessels or navigational aids, increasing the likelihood of accidents. 
  • Alcohol Use: Alcohol impairs an operator’s judgment and reaction time, making safe navigation more difficult and accidents more probable. In 2021, there were 31 boating crashes involving alcohol, leading to 10 injuries and 2 deaths.
  • Poor Boat Maintenance: Failing to maintain a boat can lead to mechanical or equipment failures, such as a stalled engine, electrical issues, or steering problems, causing accidents and injuries. In 2021, 14 boating accidents were linked to mechanical failures, and 9 were due to equipment failures.

Common Types of Boat Accidents

Risk factors influence the likelihood of an accident, but the type of accident that happens can affect your health and safety on the water. Collisions, capsizing, and falls overboard are major causes of injury and fatalities for boaters and their passengers.

Here’s a breakdown of the risks involved and how you can avoid them to stay safe:


Collisions can involve boats striking other vessels, objects, or land, leading to a serious risk of injury or fatalities. These incidents often occur due to inattention, excessive speed, or failure to understand and adhere to navigational rules. For instance, an inexperienced boat operator might fail to yield the right of way to the stand-on vessel, causing a collision.

In Missouri, there were 63 crashes involving another vessel, resulting in one fatality and 36 injuries. To avoid such accidents, always maintain a proper lookout and ensure you are aware of your surroundings and other watercraft. Consider a boater safety course to refresh your knowledge and comply with Missouri regulations.


Capsizing occurs when a boat overturns in the water, causing passengers to be thrown overboard and face the risk of drowning. It’s often caused by improper weight balancing, hazardous weather conditions, improper steering, or the impact of wakes from other boats. In Missouri, there were 10 capsizing incidents in 2021, resulting in 6 deaths and 2 injuries.

To prevent capsizing, ensure proper weight distribution on the boat, avoid overloading, and navigate carefully in rough conditions or high-traffic areas. Familiarize yourself with your vessel’s specific weight capacity, use a weather radio to stay alert to potentially dangerous weather, and stick to the posted speed limits to minimize the chances of capsizing.

Falls Overboard

Falls overboard occur when passengers are ejected from the boat into the water. Falls can occur due to sudden maneuvers, loss of balance, or collision impacts, often leading to drowning or severe injuries if passengers fall near the motor and are struck by the propeller.

There were 5 fall-overboard accidents in Missouri in 2021, with one injury and 4 deaths. Many drowning fatalities are due to not wearing proper personal flotation devices (PFDs) when on the water. In the U.S., 85% of boating accident victims who drowned were not wearing life vests.

Safety protocols should be established to help prevent falls overboard, such as encouraging passengers to remain seated in transit and minimizing alcohol consumption. Always keep the required personal floatation devices (PFDs) on the boat and ensure all passengers wear them.

Let Us Help After a Boating Accident

No matter what caused your boating accident, having the right legal representation can protect your rights. These collisions can result in costly medical bills and property damage, and if another operator’s negligence caused your accident, you deserve compensation.

Contact our attorneys at Cofman Townsley today for a free consultation. We can review your case, determine who is liable, and work to get you a fair settlement so you can get back out on the water.