Everyone’s mad these days. Folks can’t keep their airspeed up and the instrument panel is rattling and that left wing keeps fluttering ugly like the withers on a swaybacked horse. Not everyone has the altitude to make it back to the airport in the next few years and you see the panic in the way folks interact. Recklessness lies in the wake of economic stress and recklessness is all over the place, on the roadways and out on the water. Maybe you remember Sergeant Esterhaus telling his television squad, “Hey, let’s be careful out there.” Maybe you don’t. Doesn’t matter either way because this month I’m writing about what to do if you’re on the receiving end of recklessness. That is, how to best position yourself following a casualty on the water.

First, do no further harm. That’s one of those trauma surgeon mantras and you’d do well to keep it in mind. What I mean is, in the immediate aftermath don’t be writing a narrative in your head about who was at fault, how this happened, whether you have insurance coverage, etc. Just stop. Understand your circumstances and figure out what action you can take to prevent any further injury and property damage. This will likely include summoning assistance. Don’t be detailing this and that, just report the nature of the incident (like “vessel collision” or “grounding”). Don’t be dissecting the incident with anyone – all that can wait. Right now, be in the moment.

Second, once the scene is stabilized begin gathering information. This is important. The ubiquity of camera phones means you should be snapping pics (or running video) of everything. Be like the second unit crew shooting the B-roll and don’t focus narrow, but get the whole scene. Take a picture of insurance info, certificates of documentation and (always) photograph the other vessel’s Hull Identification Number (this is usually on the port side, on the outside transom surface). If you’re injured, get photos.

Third, in my opinion, the agencies that show up don’t care about you as anything more than their own casualty to patch up, assign a case number and file a report. Sorry, it must be said, so don’t go spending a lot of time explaining this or that. All can wait. If you’re too shaken up to give a statement, tell that over-equipped agency feller you’ll talk later. Sometimes folks want to overly share following a casualty, as if to make up for the spilled milk. Don’t be that person. Be judicious. Mind your words. If you’ve been drinking, Mother of Sweet Mary, stop talking or doing anything and just call your attorney. Please call her right now. Just sit down there, huff some big breaths and make that call. She’ll likely tell you not to say anything at all and I’d agree with that advice in a very big way.

Fourth, the state and federal government have various on-water casualty reporting requirements. My question is why are you rushing to fill out the incident report? Any reporting requirement I know of gives you a couple of days to fill out an incident report. You get one shot to do this reporting and you definitely want the counsel of a maritime trial or litigation attorney (as opposed to your maritime attorney friend who does a lot of boat closings!). You want an attorney to help you describe the incident in an accurate, logical way that best captures the important elements. For instance, I was just doing this in aid of a fellow who’d drafted up a description of the incident for me to review. It was nicely done with a real earnestness, but in speaking to him he’d left out a super important issue: the other boat was overtaking. That’s what they call the money shot and without an attorney to unpack the facts, it’d have been missed.

Fifth, avoid the recklessness. I’ll always take a bet if the odds make me feel cozy and here’s a bet I’ll take all day long: no court will ever find you blameless for a vessel collision. Rule 8 of the Rules of the Road is titled “Action to avoid collision” and it puts the burden on each vessel to take action in sufficient time to avoid a collision. Holding your course doesn’t work as an explanation. So remember my wee preaching and avoid being Mel Gibson in Braveheart and throttle down or peel off to port (or starboard as the case may be) and let that mad aviator pass you by knowing he (or she) is probably struggling to make life’s airport.

I think we’re all in a weird patch of water these days. Take care of yourself out there.

This article is provided for your general information, is not legal opinion and should not be relied upon. Always seek legal counsel to understand your rights and remedies.

Underway and making way. ■

John K. Fulweiler, Esq. is a Proctor-in-Admiralty representing individuals and small businesses in maritime matters including personal injury claims throughout the East and Gulf Coasts and with his office in Newport, Rhode Island. He can be reached at 1-800-383-MAYDAY (6293) or john@saltwaterlaw.com, or visit his website at saltwaterlaw.com.