With more than 15,000 lakes and 84,000 miles of river, Wisconsin is a haven for those who love spending time on the water. In fact, in a tally of the top 10 recreational boating states, Wisconsin ranks third in boat registrations, with 10,444 boat registrations for every 100,000 people.

Whether it’s jet-skiing on Lake Petenwell, trolling along on Lake Manakiki, taking a pontoon boat out on Big Eau Pleine Reservoir, or kayaking on the 503 miles of whitewater rivers, Wisconsin offers a wealth of recreational water activities.

Unfortunately, when accidents happen on the water, they can turn a boating accident victim’s life upside down. Pursuing compensation after a boating accident can be extremely complex and requires the knowledge, skill, and resources of a law firm with experience in these difficult matters.

If you’ve sustained a boating injury, the Wisconsin boating accident lawyers at Studinski Law, LLC want to hear your story. Contact our office now online or at (715) 343-2850 for a free initial consultation. We proudly serve clients throughout all of Wisconsin, including Plover, Marshfield, and other nearby areas.

common causes of boating accidents | Studinski Law, LLC

Wisconsin Boating Accident Statistics

According to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR), 81 percent of boating accident deaths in Wisconsin were caused by drowning. Part of the reason for this startling state law statistic could be the absence of safety measures. DNR data shows that only 19 percent of victims were using personal floatation devices (PFDs). The next leading causes of death were hypothermia and trauma.

On the national level, the United States Coast Guard reports that from 2019 to 2020, the total number of boating accidents increased 26 percent (4,168 to 5,265). The number of non-fatal injured victims increased 24 percent (2,559 to 3,191). The fatality rate was the highest in the program’s recent history: 6.5 deaths per 100,000 registered recreational vessels. This rate is 25 percent higher than the previous year’s fatality rate of 5.2 deaths per 100,000 registered recreational vessels.

Common Causes of Boating Accidents

A number of causes can contribute to a serious boating accident in Wisconsin. Some of the most common causes of boating accidents include:

Operator Error

Operator error is one of the most commonly cited causes of boating accidents. Boats can be considerably difficult to control and operate, especially for inexperienced operators. When boat operators do not have the experience or skill necessary to safely operate a vessel, catastrophic accidents can occur. However, even seasoned boat operators make mistakes. In 2016, for example, nearly half of those who were involved in boating accidents had over 500 hours of boat operating experience. Another 24 percent had between 100 and 500 hours logged.


Between June and September, many of the popular waterways in Wisconsin, such as Plum Lake and Lake Geneva, become overcrowded and dangerous. If boaters are distracted by their passengers, they may not see potential hazards before it is too late. When rocks, weather conditions, swimmers, and other watercraft go unnoticed, serious boating accidents can happen as a result.


Anyone who operates a boat has a duty to operate his or her vessel in a reasonable and prudent manner. Under Wisconsin law, boaters are prohibited from operating, directing, or handling a boat in a way that unreasonably annoys, unnecessarily frightens, or endangers the occupants of their boats or other boats. Operating a water vessel, water skis, or other device in a manner that endangers the life, limb, or property of another person is considered reckless and/or negligent.


Regardless of a boat operator’s experience level, it is critical for every vessel on a body of water to maintain safe speeds at all times. It is very easy to lose control of a boat and cause an accident when a boat is moving at high speed. 

Boating Under the Influence 

Intoxication and boating do not mix. Alcohol and drugs cause slower reaction times, impaired judgment, poor coordination, blurred vision, and impaired balance. Wisconsin law prohibits anyone from operating a motorboat or using water skis or similar devices while under the influence of an intoxicant or controlled substance – or has a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08% or greater. Additionally under Wisconsin law, anyone who operates or attempts to operate a vessel is deemed to have given consent to an alcohol and/or drug test. 

Equipment Failure

Whether you’re on a large yacht or riding a jet ski, your well-being depends on whether your equipment functions properly. A dysfunctional steering column, burnt-out navigation lights, or low oil levels can all have devastating results.

Lack of Preparation

Preparation is crucial for safety when enjoying recreational activities on a boat. Life vests, medical supplies, flares, and sound-producing devices are just some of the many safety items that should be taken on every boating excursion. These items can prevent being injured in a boating accident, accidental drownings, and help if you become lost.

Environmental Problems

Bad weather, intense waves, and rocks can easily spell trouble for unprepared boat operators and their passengers. Some boat operators make the mistake of not checking weather reports before setting out on the water. Weather conditions such as strong winds can create massive waves that are enough to capsize some boats and can make rescue difficult or impossible.

Common Boating Accident Injuries

Recreational boating is one of the most popular leisure activities in Wisconsin. While it is a fun, relaxing, and relatively safe way to enjoy free time, boating is not without risk. Some of the most common boating accident injuries include:

Traumatic Brain Injuries

Whether it is caused by colliding with a hard object or depriving your brain of oxygen while you are unconscious in the water, a brain injury can have lifelong consequences. You may start to suffer from head-splitting migraines, or you may lose function in certain cognitive areas, such as attention, memory, and reasoning.

Spinal Cord Injuries

Damaging your spinal cord can cause permanent or temporary paralysis. Even if the effects of the spinal cord injury are not long-lasting, you may require extensive rehabilitation. You may not regain full function for many years.

Broken Bones

Since most boats do not come equipped with restraints, being in a boating accident can expose your body to a tremendous amount of force. If you break a bone, you could be looking at a lengthy recovery process that could put you of work for some time.

Internal Injuries

Internal injuries are some of the most dangerous injuries that can be sustained in a boating accident. In many cases, the victim may not notice the injury until they are in critical condition.

Fatal Boating Accidents

Every year, boating accidents result in the loss of life. Some of the most common types of fatal boating accidents include:

Falls Overboard

Falls overboard are among the most common causes of boating accidents that result in death. These fatal accidents occur when operators or passengers accidentally fall off a vessel.


Flooding occurs when water fills a vessel, which is often the result of a boat coming into contact with something in the water. Poor weather conditions can also cause a boat to flood. When boats flood, operators and passengers can drown, especially those who are: not wearing life vests, intoxicated, poor swimmers, or simply overcome by the shock of the water.

Departed Vessel

This refers to situations in which passengers voluntarily get off a boat by their own will, such as by diving off or jumping into the water, rather than falling off. Departing a vessel is particularly dangerous when individuals are under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

Collision with Another Vessel

This common type of fatal boating accident occurs when two or more vessels collide with each other. This is often caused by operator inattention or faulty maintenance of a boat.

Collision with a Fixed Object

Collisions with fixed objects occur when boats crash into any fixed object, either below or above the surface of the water.


Capsizing happens when a boat overturns. Boats can capsize because of particularly strong winds and powerful waves or due to a collision with a fixed object or another vessel.

If you lost a loved one in a boating accident due to the reckless, careless, or negligent actions of someone else, you may be able to seek justice through a wrongful death claim. In a wrongful death lawsuit, family members can seek compensation for losses such as funeral costs, medical bills, lost financial contributions, lost companionship, and more. While no monetary award can make up for the immeasurable loss of a loved one, compensation can help a family stay financially afloat during a difficult time.

Potential Compensation in a Boating Accident Claim

If you have suffered a major injury after being involved in a boating or jet ski accident, and the collision was caused by another person’s recklessness or irresponsibility, you may be able to file a personal injury lawsuit. This type of legal action is useful for obtaining funds for the many costs associated with your injury and recuperation. In many cases, the compensation you gain can be used to alleviate your financial burdens.

Losses that can be recovered after a boating accident include:

  • Wage loss
  • Medical expenses
  • Loss of earning capacity
  • Disability
  • Disfigurement
  • Emotional distress and mental anguish
  • Pain and suffering
  • Loss of enjoyment in life
  • Loss of society and companionship

Who is Liable In a Boating Accident?

A variety of potential parties may be held liable for injuries sustained in a Wisconsin boating accident, such as:

The Operator of the Boat

The person operating the boat at the time of the crash may be held responsible for damages if it is proven that they acted negligently. Boat operators have control over their vessels and they are responsible for ensuring that all laws on the water are obeyed. They have an obligation to adhere to all relevant safety protocols while they operate their boats. Operating a vessel while under the influence, not paying attention, speeding, or other negligent behavior cause many accidents each year.

The Owner of the Boat

Boat owners have a duty to ensure their vessels are in safe condition, especially if they are carrying passengers or going onto water where other vessels are present. If equipment failure or improper maintenance causes a boat accident, the vessel’s owner may be held liable for any damages that result from a crash.

The Manufacturer of the Boat

Manufacturing and design defects are the responsibility of the boat’s manufacturer. If a boat accident was caused by a defect, the manufacturer may be held liable under Wisconsin product liability law.

The Boat Rental Company

A rental company may be held responsible for damages in a boat accident claim if the vessel involved in the accident was rented out by a company for use. This can include situations in which a rental company employee operated the vessel and situations in which the boat operator and passengers were renters. In both cases, a rental company may be held liable for any accident-related injuries.

Another Passenger

If the reckless, negligent, or intentional behavior of another passenger onboard the vessel caused a boating accident, that passenger may be held liable for subsequent injuries. This type of behavior can encompass a range of actions, such as impeding the boat operator’s ability to drive, distracting the boat operator, causing a fire on the vessel, or pushing someone overboard.

What Should I Do After a Boating Accident?

An accident on the water can be much more frightening than one that occurs on land because boating accidents carry the added threat of drowning. Although boating wrecks often cause understandable panic, it is crucial to stay calm and collected when these accidents occur.

In the immediate aftermath of a boating accident, consider the following steps:

Focus on Safety

While prioritizing your own safety, do whatever you can to make sure anyone else involved in the accident is out of immediate danger. Seek prompt medical attention for any injuries.

Report the Accident

In Wisconsin, you must contact law enforcement as soon as possible to report any boating incident that results in injury, significant property damage, or death. 

Gather Evidence

As with any injury-related accident, it is in your best interest to gather evidence as soon as possible. This evidence can include photographs of the accident and any injuries, witness testimonies, police reports, and more.

Contact a Boat Accident Attorney at Studinski Law, LLC

An experienced boating accident attorney at Studinski Law, LLC can assist you with every aspect of your case. We have built a reputation for excellence in a range of personal injury claims, and we have the knowledge, skill, and resources necessary to handle these complex cases. There is no risk in contacting our office; we offer free, no-obligation initial consultations and we’ll handle your case on a contingency-fee basis, meaning you won’t owe us a penny unless we achieve a favorable outcome in your case.

How to Stay Safe While Boating in Wisconsin

Boating safely is not difficult as long as you follow a few basic guidelines. Some of the best ways to promote and ensure safety while on the water include:

Wear a Life Jacket

Most boating accident fatalities result from drowning. Even experienced swimmers find themselves incapacitated to the point where they are unable to stay afloat on their own. Be sure to always wear a life jacket while boating and have enough life preservers available on board for all passengers.

Keep Your Boat Well Maintained

Equipment and machinery failure are among the top contributing factors in Wisconsin boating accidents. Make a point to inspect, maintain, and repair your boat regularly to ensure it operates safely.

Do Not Operate a Boat While Intoxicated

Alcohol consumption is a contributing factor in a number of boating accidents. Operating a boat while under the influence of drugs or alcohol poses a safety threat to you, your passengers, and other people on the water. Not only that, intoxicated passengers and swimmers are at increased risk of drowning.

Do Not Overload the Boat

When a boat carries too many passengers or too much weight, it can increase the risk of an accident. In Wisconsin, this is a significant contributing factor in fatal boating accidents.

Gain Experience Operating a Boat

Operator inexperience is another leading factor in Wisconsin boating accidents. Ensure that anyone operating a boat is certified and knows how to control the vessel safely to avoid accidents.

How Our Wisconsin Boating Accident Lawyers Can Help

The boating accident attorneys at Studinski Law, LLC are uniquely qualified to handle every aspect of your case. We will thoroughly investigate the details surrounding your accident and pursue the maximum compensation to which you may be entitled under the law.

We know that legal victories are not given; they are earned through hard work and dedication. Our accomplished lawyers have built a reputation for excellence in Wisconsin for giving every case the meticulous, individualized attention it deserves.

For our clients, this isn’t just a case; it’s their lives. We treat every client with the respect and compassion they deserve. We will stand by your side, answer your questions, and keep you informed about your case every step of the way.

Contact a Boating Accident Lawyer in Wisconsin Today

Don’t face your boating accident alone. If you’ve been hurt in an accident on the water, call the injury lawyers at Studinski Law, LLC right away.

Contact our office online or at (715) 343-2850 for a free initial consultation. Our attorneys serve all of Wisconsin, including Marshfield, Plover, and other surrounding areas.

Looking online is one of the most effective ways to find an attorney for your boating accident case. However, although the internet can produce millions of results for a simple search in less than a second, it’s important to understand that not all attorneys are the same. You need to research firms in your area to find a lawyer capable of handling your case successfully. During your initial search, look for the following qualities:


  • Experience: There is no substitute for experience. When looking for an attorney to handle your case, you should ensure that the prospective lawyer has experience with boating accident claims. It is important to consider the attorney’s focus on accident cases as well as the years the lawyer has been in practice.
  • Results: Prior results do not guarantee future success in any case. However, an attorney who has a record of success in personal injury claims clearly has experience fighting – and winning – for people in circumstances similar to yours.
  • Reviews: Good reviews matter. Whether looking at reviews on Google, social media, or a firm’s website, pay close attention to reviews that discuss how the attorney or law firm handled an accident case. Note whether the reviewers were pleased with the representation and results they received.
  • Location: National law firms advertise to several different areas of the country. However, state and local laws govern boat accident claims. Because of this, it is in your best interest to choose an attorney who understands the local area. Studinski Law, LLC, for example, serves clients in Marshfield, Plover, and all of Wisconsin.
  • Support: A serious boating wreck can be traumatic. Not only should the Wisconsin boating accident lawyer you hire fight diligently to recover the maximum compensation to which you may be entitled, but he or she should also provide knowledgeable advice and compassionate counsel at every stage of your claim.

After identifying a potential boat accident lawyer, schedule a free consultation to discuss your situation. This initial case evaluation is an opportunity to learn more about the viability of your claim but it is also much more. It is your chance to determine if the attorney – and the firm as a whole – is worth hiring.


Like any important meeting, you should prepare for your initial consultation in advance. Make a list of questions to ask the prospective lawyer. Consider asking questions such as:


  • Have you handled boating accident cases before?
  • How do you resolve most of your accident claims? Do you take cases to trial?
  • How soon will you and your team respond to my questions?
  • Will handle my case directly or will it be assigned to someone else?
  • Do you think I have a viable claim?

These questions will ultimately help you understand the viability of your boat accident claim and whether the lawyer or law firm is qualified and capable of handling it. Initial consultations are also opportunities to determine whether you feel comfortable hiring the lawyer to represent you and what it may be like to be a client of the firm.

Yes – regardless of whether you experience immediate symptoms of a serious injury, it is beneficial to both your health and potential case to seek medical attention as soon as possible after a boating accident.


Boat accident injuries do not always present immediate symptoms. These “hidden” injuries include:


  • Internal injuries
  • Spinal cord injuries
  • Traumatic brain injuries
  • Whiplash
  • Joint damage and other soft tissue injuries

Even though the injuries listed above are not always immediately symptomatic doesn’t mean they aren’t serious. Left untreated, a boat accident injury could result in debilitating pain and loss of mobility and function. Without timely medical care, certain injuries – such as organ injury, internal bleeding, and brain damage – can lead to life-threatening emergencies.


In addition to protecting your health and wellbeing, prompt medical attention can be critical to protect your legal rights. Evidence is needed to prove the injuries you sustained from the accident. Medical records not only document the injuries you sustained, but they can also demonstrate that the injuries were serious enough that you acted promptly to address them rather than waiting weeks or months to do so.


Failure to seek medical attention will prevent you from providing crucial evidence to support your claim. Not only that, but the other side will point to the absence of medical documentation and/or the delay in receiving treatment to devalue your claim and dispute liability for the injuries.

You generally have three years in which to file a lawsuit against another party whose negligence you believe caused the accident in which you were harmed (see Wis. Stat. § 893.54). However, it is important to consult with an attorney as quickly as possible for an accurate analysis of the statute of limitations in your case. Before filing a lawsuit, your lawyer will need time to investigate the crash. It takes time to collect evidence and make a strong boat accident case.


A three-year deadline generally applies to cases of wrongful death, as well, although there are exceptions. Wrongful death is defined by Wisconsin law as a death that is caused by another party’s “wrongful act, neglect or default,” in a situation when the deceased could have file a personal injury lawsuit had he or she lived. Even though the deceased is not able to bring a personal injury claim, certain other people can—in the form of a wrongful death lawsuit (see Wis. Stat. § 895.03).


There are exceptions to the three-year rule. You should contact an attorney right away for a specific analysis of the statute of limitations in your situation.

A settlement can be reached at any point during your boat accident claim. This includes during trial proceedings, before trial, and before a lawsuit is ever filed.


The time it takes for a settlement to be reached in your situation depends on the details surrounding your case. While a straightforward boat accident claim may settle within six months, more complex cases could take a year or more.


The severity of your injuries and the nature and extent of damages play significant roles in the time it takes for your lawsuit to settle. It is crucial to hire a skilled attorney who can determine the full value of your physical, financial, and emotional losses and negotiate a fair settlement on your behalf.

Perhaps. Wisconsin follows a legal system of modified comparative negligence. Under this system, plaintiffs are prohibited from recovering any compensation if they are 51% or more at fault for an accident. If you are found to be less than 51% responsible for an accident, any damages you recover will be reduced in proportion to your percentage of fault.


Say, for example, that your damages from a boat accident total $100,000; the other party is found to be 80% at fault but you share 20% of the blame. In this example, the maximum compensation you can recover would be $80,000. (see Wis. Stat. § 895.045).

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