Boating is an extremely popular activity during the warmer months in Connecticut. With access to the Long Island Sound, along with the many natural and man-made lakes across the state, it is no wonder why residents chose to spend their free time relaxing on the water. Operating these vessels naturally presents different challenges than the ones a motor vehicle operator is confronted with. We reached out to the owner and lead instructor of Current Boating Education, Patrick Kilby, to discuss the importance of safety while partaking in maritime activities, along with how he assists injury attorneys and their clients after being injured in a boating accident.

What is your professional background and what attracted you to your current position as the owner of a boating education business? 

Patrick KilbyI have over ten years of prior legal experience in both state government and also the private insurance industry. I currently serve my community as Chair of the Inland, Wetland & Watercourses Commission. I am currently a Marine Patrol Officer with a multi-municipal funded agency. I have been a marine patrol officer and also certified boating instructor for over fifteen years with both state and federal instruction credentials along with boating accident investigation experience. What attracted me to forming and owning Current Boating Education is my love for boating and being on the open waterways along with my passion for educating people about boating safely while operating the boat legally.

How does driving a boat on open water differ from operating a motor vehicle on the roadways in terms of the challenges that are present? 

Operating a vessel on the waterways differs significantly compared to operating a motor vehicle on the roadways. Operating a vessel presents many challenges such as environmental factors paired with operator inattention and failure to keep a proper lookout, all while with substantially fewer safety precautions compared to those required by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA).

On a roadway, you have environmental conditions such as sun glare, rain, fog, reduced visibility, and wind factors with operator inattention. With operating on the waterways you have the same conditions and challenges but paired with waterway conditions, such as high or low tide, current, wake from other vessels, or those involved in water-sports activities. Add alcohol or drug use to the equation along with stress factors that can enhance slower reaction times such as the heat of the sun, motor vibration, and the rocking action from waterway conditions, and you have extremely dangerous scenarios, much different than ones faced while operating on a roadway.

With accidents on roadways, evidence can be preserved or even documented easier- especially with newer camera technologies such as Ring or Arlo systems. On the water, conditions and scenes can quickly change. Parts of a broken vessel or personal property on board a vessel can sink, drift away, be removed, or destroyed with water conditions- all of which could have been key evidence.

Maritime and waterway operation laws with vessels are behind on the times and are lacking, in comparison to Connecticut motor vehicle laws.

There is no operating while utilizing a hands-free cellular device law while behind the wheel with a vessel. Operators in Connecticut can also operate a vessel while consuming alcoholic beverages. Both are highly dangerous activities to partake in while operating behind the helm in open waters. Connecticut also does not have a minimum insurance requirement with operating vessels compared to motor vehicle operations. If you are involved in an accident and suffer property loss or medical injury you want to be assured that you are covered financially.

In your expert experience, what are the most common causes of boating accidents, and what are the best ways to avoid them? 

The number one most common cause of boating accidents are collisions with other recreational vessels. Second, are vessels striking a fixed object. These are statistically the highest two reported accidents, according to the United States Coast Guard (USCG), across the country. Operator inattention and failure to keep a proper lookout followed by operator inexperience are the highest contributing factors in both of these types of accidents.

The best way to avoid striking another vessel or object is to prepare yourself. Keep a proper lookout at all times. Have a passenger or skipper help you keep a proper lookout if onboard the vessel while underway. Have knowledge of how to operate your vessel in a multitude of conditions. Know how your vessel handles and reacts in different operating conditions. Practice, prepare, and operate your vessel in calm conditions. Then, work your way up to handling more challenging conditions in an open environment without any obstruction or distraction.

Check waterway conditions and set environmental limits before going out. A new boater should never be out operating in a small craft advisory. Wind direction, speed of the wind, and current changes can increase or decrease rapidly. Know how to handle your vessel in case environmental conditions change. Avoid distractions while operating your vessel. Be aware of your state of visibility because that determines your safe operating speed. Be sure that you have time to avoid a collision or hazardous condition in the waterway and have prudent time to stop, slow down, or change course or direction. This will assist in keeping you and your passengers safe. This will also save you tremendous amounts of financial loss of personal property damage or the headache of a civil suit.

In what ways do you assist injury victims, their attorneys, law enforcement, and/or investigators after boating accidents?

We are a full-service boating and maritime education and consulting company. In addition to providing boating education courses, we review in-depth boating accident reports and assist attorneys with preparation for civil suits, and can provide expert witnesses in a multitude of boating-related fields. We have experts in boating education, law enforcement, accident investigations, and also fire-fighting in a marine environment. We also assist insurance carriers with claims and investigations when in-house staff are not present, are not qualified, or are overloaded with cases. We also train and assist law enforcement and first responders with on-water operations and investigations.

What advice would you give to someone who is interested in obtaining a boating license or who plans to enjoy the day on a boat with someone who already has one? 

If someone is interested in boating, the first step is enrolling and completing a boating safety education course.

Connecticut requires a resident who would like to operate a vessel must obtain a Safe Boating Certificate (SBC) or a Certificate of Personal Watercraft Operation (CPWO) for those who would like to operate a PWC here in Connecticut- whether a resident or not.

Connecticut-approved boating safety education courses must be eight hours in length. Part of the eight-hour course must be a proctored test, which normally must be completed in person only, but has been allowed virtually online through executive order by the governor of Connecticut.

If you are looking to go out with a boater for an enjoyable safe day on the water, there are key roles you need to serve. First, when boarding any vessel, you should be asking the captain or skipper if they have all the safety equipment required by state and federal law, and where is it located onboard the vessel. Second, they should be ready to assist the operator with any activity that they request assistance with, such as docking, attaching lines, anchoring, and assisting in keeping a proper lookout. They should also assure that the operator is the designated sober driver and is the most qualified person to operate that vessel.

Pro Tip:   Personal injury cases that involve significant injuries acquired on a boat may require the services of an injury attorney who can help in a variety of accident cases. Should you have any questions about your Connecticut accident case, please contact us.