Operator Responsibilities

The ultimate responsibility for the safe operation and conduct of a vessel lay squarely upon the operator. Failure to comply with the bullet points exposes the operator to liability that may result in injury or death of persons onboard the operator’s vessel or other vessels.

Operator Proficiency

Boat operators are ultimately responsible for the safe operation and conduct of their boat. Boat operators must be familiar with the capability and/or limitations of their boat and be proficient in its operation. Boat operators must recognize the need for the development of boat handling skills and additional knowledge beyond this standard. Such knowledge may include basic knots, docking and securing the vessel, etc.

Situational Awareness

Situational awareness means knowing what is going on in and around the vessel at all times. Boat operators should be aware of constantly changing circumstances such as weather, tides, sea conditions, traffic, passenger activity, etc.

Safety of Everyone

The boat operator is ultimately responsible for the safety and actions of everyone aboard. Completing a pre-departure checklist and safety briefing will help address this responsibility.

Where to go

The boat operator is ultimately responsible for knowing, understanding and complying with regulations related to controlled areas, areas of danger, exclusion areas and other restricted zones.

Safe Speed

Safe speed means “every vessel shall at all times proceed at a safe speed so that she can take proper and effective action to avoid collisions and allisions and be stopped within a distance appropriate to the prevailing circumstances and conditions.” It is the operators responsibility to identify the safest speed to maintain in any given situation and maintain that speed at that time.

Negligence, Carelessness and Recklessness

The legal definition of careless, reckless, or negligent operations varies from state to state. They are behaviors that encompass a wide range of activities that can endanger passengers or others on or around the water. Failure to operate a vessel in a reasonable and prudent manner or failing to have regard for other waterborne traffic, posted speed and wake restrictions, and losing situational awareness may be considered careless or reckless operation.

Courtesy and Sharing the Waterways

Courteous operation and considerations should be followed at all times. For example, vessels should be aware of and consider the impact of their wake on others, including the shoreline and facilities


The action to avoid collision should be taken well in advance of any potential meeting. Any course or speed change should be great enough to be obvious to any approaching vessel. Due regard shall be had to all dangers of navigation and collision which may make a departure from the navigation rules necessary to avoid immediate danger.

Use and Storage of Lines

Boaters should be knowledgeable of the appropriate types and sizes of lines, proper storage and applicable knots for various situations. Safe use of lines includes the operator instructing passengers in proper line handling and storage.


Incident reports are legally required when the incident involves any one of:

  1. disappearance or loss of life
  2. personal injury requiring medical treatment beyond first aid
  3. property damage in excess of current state or federal thresholds
  4. complete loss of the boat.



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