Who Is Liable For A Boating Wake Accident?

Boating accidents aren't always caused by direct contact. Wake alone can cause damage or injuries from capsizing, hull breaches, or people falling overboard. Who is liable for a wake accident depends on exactly what happened.


Wake is usually a result of speed. In a no or low wake zone, a boat that causes wake is clearly at fault. These zones are often located in areas where people are using small boats, like kayaks, or are putting into docks. They are also in narrow waterways that are shared by different sized vessels. Like other safety regulations, any boat that violates speed or wake restrictions is fully or primarily responsible for accidents that happen as a result of the violation.

Proving that a boat was speeding isn't easy, but it isn't necessarily required to prove speed. If you can prove that your damage or injuries were caused by wake, the judge or jury can reasonably assume speed caused the wake.

Failing to Give Way

Even in unrestricted areas, all boats still have to operate in a safe manner. A boat that's creating a large wake must be on the lookout for smaller vessels. Upon approaching smaller vessels, the larger vessel should reduce its speed or alter its course so that its wake doesn't impact the smaller vessel. If a larger vessel doesn't give way, you may be able to sue for negligent operation if you're damaged or injured by the wake.

There may be exceptions in certain areas. For example, if a large ship is passing through a channel and a small boat can safely leave the channel and enter shallower waters to avoid the wake, the smaller vessel must do so. Boating accidents are very fact-specific and there are exceptions to exceptions, so always review the exact situation with a lawyer.

Failing to Avoid a Wake

The operator of a boat that encounters a wake could also be liable to their passengers if they fail to avoid a wake. For example, they might think it will be fun to enter the rough water or negligently fail to alter their course upon seeing the wake. In this scenario, it doesn't matter to the passengers whether or not the other boat that caused the wake did anything wrong. They can bring a case against their operator, and the operators of both boats can then go to court against each other to see who ends up paying the passengers.

To learn more, contact local accident lawyers today.