Boating Accident? Don’t Forget to Report!

Guidelines for filing an accident report

Crack up your car, and the responding police officer, sheriff’s deputy or state trooper files any required report. If you’re the operator or owner of a boat involved in an accident though, you must complete and file an official accident report with your state’s boating authority.

It’s not busywork: The U.S. Coast Guard compiles and maintains statistics drawn from boating accident reports, and from them identifies boat defects and boating behaviors that damage property, cause injuries and take lives. The more accurate the reports, the better the data, the safer the boating. It makes the best of bad situations. And it won’t make a bad scene worse: No penalties or citations can result solely from an accident report, the Coast Guard says.

When to file depends on what happened and where. Here are the basics under federal law:

  • A report must be filed within 48 hours if an accident involving a vessel or equipment results in a death within 24 hours, injury requiring more than first aid, or disappearance of a person in a way that indicates death or injury;
  • A report must be filed within 10 days of a boating accident that causes more than $2,000 damage to boats or other property, there is complete loss of any vessel or a person dies more than 24 hours after the accident.

State and territorial laws, meanwhile, vary, especially on the property-damage threshold — some as low as $50. Check with your state boating authority. To streamline the process, keep blank accident reporting forms on board (they might further remind you to follow safe boating guidelines!), along with float plans and pre-launch checklists.

Form sources: Most states have available their own boating accident forms. Check with your state boating authority. A federal form accepted by many states, cg3865barform2008, and reporting rules, is available online at search by form title or “accident reporting.” Wherever you get your form, file it with the state boating authority in the state in which the accident occurred, or in which the boat is registered or principally used. The state authority will forward it to the Coast Guard if indicated.

One more thing: Don’t confuse insurance claims with accident reports. They’re not the same, and filing one does not replace filing the other.

* * * * *

The U.S. Coast Guard is asking all boat owners and operators to help reduce fatalities, injuries, property damage, and associated healthcare costs related to recreational boating accidents by taking personal responsibility for their own safety and the safety of their passengers. Essential steps include: wearing a life jacket at all times and requiring passengers to do the same; never boating under the influence (BUI); successfully completing a boating safety course; and getting a Vessel Safety Check (VSC) annually from local U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, United States Power Squadrons(r), or your state boating agency's Vessel Examiners. The U.S. Coast Guard reminds all boaters to "Boat Responsibly!" For more tips on boating safety, visit


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