Indiana Boating Safety

Indiana is home to state parks, lakes, rivers, and reservoirs that are all excellent places for boating or using personal watercraft like jet skis, wave runners, or kayaks. But like any other vehicle, motorized and non-motorized boats require experienced operators who are trained in the rules of the waterways. Here are some resources and data that can help you and loved ones stay safe and unharmed as you enjoy the time on the water.

Who Can Drive a Boat, Jet Ski, or Wave Runner in Indiana?

No one under the age of 15 can legally operate a motorboat, jet ski, or wave runner with more than 10 horsepower in the state of Indiana.

Anyone who is at least 15 years old can potentially operate a boat or personal watercraft (PWC) like a jet ski or wave runner. But there are other requirements to qualify aside from just age.

If the driver does not have a valid driver’s license, they are required to have an ID card issued by the Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles. If the ID card is from another state, an unlicensed driver cannot legally operate a watercraft in Indiana. This is due to the need to complete a safety course approved by our state. Unlicensed individuals 15 years or older with an Indiana-issued ID card must also complete the Indiana Boater Safety Course before they can drive on the water. 

Upon completion of this course, you will receive an Indiana Boater Education Card that should be kept with you while driving the boat as proof of education and to avoid fines. While this course is not expressly required for licensed drivers, it is highly recommended. The vast majority of fatal boating accidents and boating injuries happen when drivers have not completed a boating safety course.

Anyone with a driver’s license can legally operate a boat in Indiana. This does not have to be an Indiana license, but it must be valid and unexpired. Refer to the Indiana Boating Safety Requirements if more clarity on these rules is needed, or contact the Indiana Department of Natural Resources.

Indiana Boating Laws & Authority

The Indiana Boating Safety Handbook shares many valuable safety tips and laws that protect drivers and passengers alike. Here are some but not all of the boating and personal watercraft safety rules & laws in Indiana.

  • When two crafts are approaching each other head-to-head, each should bear right and pass on the left side of the oncoming craft.
  • o   When two crafts are approaching at right angles, the boat on the right has the right-of-way, unless one craft is non-motorized. In that case, the non-motorized boat has the right-of-way and the motorboat should yield.
  • In cases where one motorized craft is passing another from behind, it is the responsibility of the passing craft to give way, meaning take early and substantial action to avoid collision by stopping, slowing down, or changing course. It is the responsibility of the craft being passed to stand on, meaning the vessel should maintain its course and speed.
  • Anyone operating, riding on, or being towed by a personal watercraft like a jet ski or wave runner must be wearing a personal flotation device that meets US Coast Guard requirements.
  • All vessels must carry a wearable personal flotation device for every person on board that meets US Coast Guard requirements. Ski belts are not Coast Guard approved flotation devices.
  • A child under 13 years of age must wear a personal flotation device except when the child is below deck in an enclosed cabin or the vessel is docked or at anchor.
  • To operate between sunset and sunrise, boats must be equipped with lights specific to their vessel class. Check the handbook for the requirements for your craft.
  • It is illegal to operate a boat under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

These are just some of the laws and regulations governing water recreation in the state of Indiana. Other laws relative to elements like fire extinguishers, speeding, wake jumping, water skiing, tubing, and more are also on the books. All laws and rules should be well-understood by everyone enjoying the boat, and especially the driver. If a driver isn’t aware of these laws, injuries to their passengers or to others on the water could be their responsibility.

There are also many best practices on fueling, changing oil, theft prevention, and other valuable knowledge shared in the Indiana Boating Safety Handbook and the Indiana Boating Safety Course. This is why these materials are recommended for all those who own or drive a boat in Indiana.

Causes of Boating Accident Wrongful Death & Boating Injury

According to data collected by the US Coast Guard, alcohol is the leading known contributing factor to fatal boating accidents, listed as the primary cause in 23% of boating accident deaths.

Another major contributing factor to boating accident deaths is the boat safety education of the driver. 70% of nationwide deaths on boats or personal watercraft occurred when the driver had not received state-approved safety instruction. Eight out of every ten boaters who drowned were using a vessel less than 22 feet long. 48% of deaths occurred in an open motorboat, 14% in kayaks, and 8% in personal watercraft. Cabin motorboats and pontoons were also among top crafts for accidents, injuries, and death.

The top five nationwide boating accident types in 2019 were as follows:

  •  Collision with another craft: 1071 accidents/ 650 injuries/ 47 deaths
  •  Collision with an object: 493 accidents/ 326 injuries/ 44 deaths
  •  Grounding: 413 accidents/ 253 injuries/ 16 deaths
  •  Flooding/Swamping: 399 accidents/ 124 injuries/ 45 deaths
  •  Falls Overboard: 299 accidents/ 122 injuries/ 189 deaths

While falls overboard are not as common as other accidents on a boat, they are the most fatal. This is related to life jackets. 86% of drowning victims were not wearing a life jacket. Drowning is the most common cause of death in boating accidents, followed by trauma, cardiac arrest, carbon monoxide poisoning, and hypothermia.

In addition to alcohol use, operator inattention, operator inexperience, improper lookout, and excessive speed are other top contributors to boating accidents.

In 2019, the Coast Guard counted 4,168 accidents that involved 613 deaths, 2,559 injuries and approximately $55 million dollars of damage to property as a result of recreational boating accidents. These damages and losses are in many cases avoidable with driver safety education and rules enforcement like wearing life jackets, not speeding, not driving drunk, and keeping lookout.

If you or a loved one have been harmed or your loved one was killed in a boating accident, negligence might have played a role. The Indiana personal injury attorneys at Christie Farrell Lee & Bell want to hear your story. From listening to your experiences to fighting for you in court, we’re your advocates on the path to achieving peace of mind. Contact us today to get a top Indiana injury attorney on your side.