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Forensics - Boating Accident and Reconstruction Analysis

There aren't any dripping skid marks!

The two largest differences between automotive and watercraft accident reconstruction:

A lack of physical evidence, data to interpret and reduced familiarity of witness's and operators with the water environment.

The physical evidence is the most difficult to overcome. With no roads or traffic lanes, what was the approach direction of the boats? One degree of bearing can completely change the right-of-way situation. Final rest is usually not available unless a boat sinks or runs aground. With fiberglass and some steel construction, energy from crush is nearly impossible - the same with principle direction of force to a lesser degree. There are almost never distances and frictions to work speed from.

The "people" source of data becomes more important trying to fill in the missing physical evidence. At the same time, they are not as familiar with their environment. Most people know fender, bumper, tire, etc. Fewer know bow, stern, transom, or keel. Speed and distance estimates are bad in the road environment. Believe me, its worse on the water! Most drivers know to stop at a red light, or that turning traffic on solid green must yield to opposite direction through traffic. A lot of boat operators DO NOT know the Rules of the Road - the international right of way rules for the water. There is no standard state licensing requirement in the for boat operators.

So how do you reconstruct a watercraft accident? Some principles from traffic do work. Running lights may show hot or cold shock. If you have at least a time or speed estimate, you can do at least a rudimentary time/speed/distance analysis. A thorough knowledge of the "driving laws" (Rules of the Road) can help you recognize the significance of minor pieces of evidence (physical or testimony). While there are no extensive tests on perception/reaction times, it still has to be factored in. The interpretation of contact damage for first contact, maximum engagement, and disengagement can be critical.

How does an accident Reconstructionist get into watercraft accident reconstruction? You most certainly have to be an experienced boater. Otherwise, it would be like doing traffic without ever having had a driver's license. There are a couple of courses in Watercraft Investigation - Underwriters Laboratory, Florida Marine Police to name a couple. We've taught one for the Sea School as well. This course is geared for the insurance adjuster and yacht broker to learn accident damage inspection, not for them to learn boating.

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