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Are Personal Watercraft Crashes Treated Like Car Wrecks?

A 17-year-old from Durham, North Carolina (NC), died after a crash between two personal watercraft. The fatal collision happened on Falls Lake on the evening of April 28, 2018.



Agents with the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission received reports of the crash a little before 5:30 pm and found the teenaged PWC rider on the Rolling View swimming beach at the end of Baptist Road suffering from severe leg and head injuries. He died upon arrival at Duke University Medical Center.

The person on the other personal watercraft has been identified as the deceased teen’s 27-year-old cousin. The older man suffered no injuries.

No one witnessed the collision, so authorities continue investigating while deciding whether to issue any charges against the surviving PWC rider. Boaters are subject to many of the same laws as drivers and motorcycle riders, having legal duties to yield right of way, obey posted speed limits, and operate under control at all times. One traffic rule that often gets enforced on the water is the ban on reckless boating.

The North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission explains on its personal watercraft law webpage that riders can be ticketed and even arrested for


  • Weaving through slower vessels.
  • Jumping wakes when visibility is low or while following another vessel too closely.
  • Playing chicken, or speeding at another vessel and swerving at the last second.
  • Failing to follow the rules of the road that dictate which vessels have right of way and where boaters must position themselves in relation to channel markers.
  • Following another vessel, especially another PWC, too closely.

If the investigation into the deadly head-on collision on Falls Lake reveals that the surviving PWC rider engaged in any of these behaviors, the family of the teen who lost his life could have grounds for filing wrongful death claims. While the other rifer probably des not have boat insurance, an experienced Carolina wrongful death attorney will know how to apply provisions of car insurance to the case. A lawsuit could also be filed against the surviving PWC rider if he were found legally responsible for causing the wreck.

As summer begins, so does the season for boat crashes and boating injuries and deaths. Decades of work with victims of accidents on the water have taught my Carolina personal injury and wrongful death colleagues and I that the leading causes of boat wrecks are usually preventable. We urge all people hitting the water to complete the state safety course, stay sober, avoid distractions, slow down around other vessels and near the shore, keep a sharp lookout, know and stick to vessel weight limits, and make all passengers wear life vests.


Richard N. Shapiro
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Personal Injury & Wrongful Death Lawyer Serving Va Beach, Norfolk, Chesapeake & all of Virginia
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