California is famous for its beaches and sunny weather. The state boasts hundreds of miles worth of coastline along which residents can enjoy numerous seafaring activities. From the calm and relaxing beachfronts of Orange County to the more dynamic and expressive waters of San Louis Obispo, California beach have a diverse set of coastal conditions. Boating is among one of the more popular ocean and lake activities for California residents and tourists.

However, the pleasure of boating does not come without risks. According to the California State Parks Division of Boating and Waterways, a reported 588 boating accidents and 50 fatalities occurred in California in 2016. Given the potential severity of a boating accident, California law establishes certain standards for boat operations to ensure public safety.


California law prohibits boating under the influence (BUI). Under California’s Harbors and Navigation Code, Section 655 (HNC § 655), paragraph (c) “no person shall operate any recreational vessel or manipulate any water skis, aquaplane, or similar device if the person has an alcohol concentration of 0.08 percent or more in his or her blood.”

BUI is considered to be a Class B misdemeanor offense punishable by a minimum 72 hours of imprisonment in jail. However, testing for blood alcohol levels are unlikely to occur until long after the operator started consuming alcohol. Thus, as a practical matter, California law accounts for the time that elapses between the boat operator’s arrest and administering the alcohol test. Even a BAC level of 0.04 is enough to trigger the presumption that the operator’s BAC was a 0.08 at the time of boating.


General negligence principles require people to exercise ordinary care to avoid causing foreseeable injuries to another person. When someone fails to do so, they are considered negligent and may be liable for any injuries they consequently inflict upon another person.

In the context of boating, if a person violates applicable boating laws and subsequently causes an otherwise preventable injury to someone else, they are considered to be negligent per se.

HNC § 655 paragraph (a) provides that “no person shall use any vessel or manipulate water skis, an aquaplane, or a similar device in a reckless or negligent manner so as to endanger the life, limb, or property of any person.”

For example, a person who commits a BUI and consequently injures another person will be held liable for those injuries.

Furthermore, California Harbors and Navigation Code, Section 656 (HNC § 656) requires certain boating accidents to be reported to the California State Parks Division of Boating and Waterways.

Under HNC § 656, boating accident reports are required under the following circumstances:

  • Death, disappearance, or injury that requires medical attention beyond first aid;
  • Damage to property in excess of $500; or
  • The total loss of a vessel, regardless of its value.

Boating accident reports shall be filed within 48 hours after an accident that involves:

  • A death that occurs within 24 hours after the accident;
  • The disappearance of a person; or
  • Injury that requires medical intervention beyond first aid.


If you or a loved one have been seriously injured in a boat accident, you should reach out to a dedicated Walnut Creek personal injury and wrongful death attorney with experience in boat accident cases for legal advice. At Casper, Meadows, Schwartz & Cook, we have years of experience handling personal injury and wrongful death litigation, including boating accident injury and death cases. You can benefit from high quality legal advocacy that is custom tailed to fit the individual needs of your case.

For a free case evaluation regarding your personal injury case, call Casper, Meadows, Schwartz & Cook at (925) 275-5592 or contact us online today.