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What to do if you’re in a boating accident

Posted May 8, 2018

While no one anticipates that their day on the water will be cut short by an accident, all boaters should prepare for the unexpected and know what to do in the event of an incident.

If you are in a collision or accident while on one of the state’s waterways, Arizona law requires you to:

If it’s an emergency, call 911 if cellphone service is available. When preparing for an outing, boaters should take note of which law enforcement agency has jurisdiction on the waterway in order to call for assistance if needed. In addition, the National Safe Boating Council recommends that boaters carry at least two communication devices that will work when wet. For example, an emergency position indicating radio beacon (EPIRB) and personal locator beacon (PLB) both transmit a coded message to the nearest rescue coordination center.

In addition, daytime and nighttime signaling devices (brightly colored flags, spotlights, flares, strobe lights, etc.) are required on the Colorado River and are a good idea for any emergency situation. Plan to be self-reliant until help arrives. Arizona’s waterways are somewhat remote, and it may be an extended period before emergency personnel are able locate you. Carry plenty of water, be able to provide shelter from the sun and have first-aid supplies onboard. Above all, carry the required safety equipment and wear a life jacket. You can never put on a life jacket fast enough to save your life. Last year the majority of boating fatalities could have been prevented if the victims had been wearing a life jacket.

An accident must be reported to the Arizona Game and Fish Department (AZGFD) within five days if an incident causes more than $500 in damage to the boat or personal property. Arizona Boating Accident and Casualty Report forms are available online as well as from law enforcement personnel and AZGFD offices. The report must be sent to: Arizona Game and Fish Department, Attn: Boating Law Administrator, 5000 W. Carefree Highway, Phoenix, AZ, 85086.

“Arizona is required by federal law to report boating incidents to the United States Coast Guard. The Coast Guard reviews types and causes of incidents and determines if boating practices or the vessel can be made safer to ensure public safety. These reports help us identify issues to improve boating safety throughout the state,” said Tim Baumgarten, boating law administrator for the AZGFD. “We need to know what the causes of incidents are so that we can proactively address them.”

Stay safe this summer by wearing a life jacket — and it’s mandatory in many cases. State law requires that children 12 and younger wear a U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket while underway on any boat, each person on a personal watercraft like a Sea-Doo or Jet Ski must wear a personal flotation device, and each person being towed or surfing behind a boat on water skis or a similar device must wear a U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket. In addition, all boats including paddleboards and kayaks must carry a U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket that is the proper size for each person on board.

For more information on boating safety and best practices, AZGFD has many resources posted online at and also offers a free in-person class at multiple locations throughout the state each month.