A boating injury and the implications

After thousands of trouble-free, peer-to-peer boat rental transactions on Boatbound across the country, we recently had our first serious accident. As a community dedicated to safe boating, we felt it prudent to explain the situation, and implications.

The Incident

The incident occurred on August 8, 2015, in the waterway between Cove Neck and Cold Spring Harbor, New York. According to the New York Daily News, the person who rented the boat had jumped into the water to retrieve a towable water tube which had become unattached from the rented boat. She was swimming near the stern of the boat, when another person on board shifted the boat into reverse. The woman suffered lacerations from the boat’s propeller, resulting in amputation of her leg. Boatbound has the deepest sympathy for the woman who was injured in this unusual, tragic accident, and we wish her a speedy recovery.

Attorneys representing the injured woman subsequently filed suit naming several parties including Boatbound. Boatbound’s counsel in this matter said “it is unfortunate that there was an injury and that the injured renter entrusted the vessel to one of her guests who both turned on the engine and engaged the transmission while she was in the water.” He added that, in this case, there’s little doubt that “this primarily will involve the plaintiff and her guest who was operating the vessel.”

Todd D. Lochner, Esq., founder of Boatinglaw.com and a recognized expert on maritime law, said “contractual documents in this peer-to-peer transaction spelled out certain duties specifically designed to prevent the type of casualty, and it is unfortunate they were not complied with in this instance.” Noting that this case essentially involved “a freak accident,” Lochner expressed confidence in the court’s ability to “discern causal factors and properly assign responsibility against the operator who decided to turn on the engine and engage the transmission.”

At the time of this incident Boatbound provided insurance through Great Lakes Reinsurance, the same carrier that many sharing sites use. Like other companies in the sharing economy who provide insurance, this coverage is designed to cover all parties to the transaction. In our case, the policy covers the boat as well providing liability coverage during each rental period. Policy terms, coverage limits, and rights are clearly outlined before any booking is made and each boat owner and renter must read and approve them prior to each rental.

During this and every rental, Boatbound encourages safe boating practices, emphasizes the use of safety equipment, and provides a detailed list of safety tips as well as restrictions that must be followed. Our rental application procedures pre-screen renters to help boat owners make informed rental decisions. Any rental that goes out bareboat (without a Captain) requires the renter to be pre-approved, and much like a car rental, requires that they will be the only operator of the vessel.

At the start of every rental, we require boat owners to complete an operational and safety walkthrough with the renter/operator and both sign an additional form.  This walkthrough covers operational training as well as a checklist of US Coast Guard required safety equipment such as lifejackets, flares, and optional equipment that may be on the boat, such as a VHF radio.

In this incident, the renter who was insured and approved to rent/operate the boat, turned over command of the vessel to someone else which subsequently led to the insurance company declining coverage for her.

The Larger Picture

When there are many iterations of anything – whether it’s miles driven on freeways, or episodes of boat rentals – an occasional accident is inevitable. This understanding means safety will continue to be at the forefront of everything we do. Through our efforts to ensure that the boats in our program have the required safety equipment available and are reliably of high quality, along with our emphasis on boating safety for renters, we greatly increase the probability that everyone will have a great and safe rental experience. It is our continued focus to improve safety offerings so that we can continue to provide the safest boat rental experiences available. You can find more details about our insurance and safety programs at https://boatbound.co/safety.