How To Stay Safe When Boating This Summer, Says NY and PA Personal Injury Lawyer


As our summer heats up, more people are heading for their nearest river or lake for some water recreation to keep cool and spend time with family and friends. There will be food and drink, including some alcohol … and we hope some life jackets.

From paddleboards to motor boats, getting out on your favorite body of water for some fun is a great way to beat the summer heat, but only if you are prepared and sober and drug-free.

The New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation reports there were 15 fatal boating-related accidents in Upstate New York in 2017. The 15 deaths in 2017 included two in  Twin Tiers lakes, according to news reports:

  • A kayaker was killed April 17 when the kayak he was operating capsized on Almond Lake in Steuben County. He was not wearing a life jacket.
  • A motorboat passenger was killed Aug. 10 when he was ejected from his seat and run over by a boat on Waneta Lake in Schuyler County. He had marijuana in his system and was not wearing a life jacket.

The other deaths involved capsized canoes, a pedal boat accident, a paddleboard fall, swimming off a motor boat, a capsized rowboat, and a cabin swamped by a wave and sunk in rough waters.

In many cases, there were not life jackets or any personal flotation devices. Alcohol and drug use were reported in some cases.

According to national recreational boating statistics from the U.S. Coast Guard, in 2017, there were about 4,291 accidents that involved 658 deaths, 2,629 injuries and about $46 million in property damage as a result of crashes.

The fatality rate of 5.5 deaths per 100,000 registered recreational vessels was a 6.8 percent decrease from the 2016 fatality rate of 5.9 deaths per 100,000.

The number of accidents decreased 3.9 percent from 2016 to 2017. In addition, the number of deaths decreased 6.1 percent and the number of injuries fell 9.4 percent.

Let’s keep decreasing those numbers. Remember your life jackets and don’t use drugs or alcohol before or during boating.

Remember: If you are the operator of a boat you should ensure that your passengers are wearing life jackets (when required or appropriate for the conditions) and are not dangerously intoxicated or impaired.  If you feel that it’s unsafe for your passengers to be out on the water, you should do the right thing and get to shore.  Never forget:  YOU are the captain of the ship.

Here is why: 76 percent of fatal boating accident victims drowned, and of those drowning victims with reported life jacket use, 84.5 percent were not wearing a life jacket.

Finally, alcohol use is the leading known contributing factor in fatal boating accidents, according to the report.

Boating safety courses are not required under state law for anyone born before 1996, but with summer upon us, I would encourage everyone to take boating education seriously and consider taking the course.

Important information from the New York State Boaters Guide:

Motor Boat Education Requirements:

  • Operators born on or after May 1, 1996, must have a boating safety certificate and be at least 10 years of age.
  • Operators who are younger than 18 years of age must be accompanied by a person who is at least 18 years of age or older and is the holder of a boating safety certificate or not required by law to hold a certificate.
  • The operator is the owner of a recently purchased motor boat, if required by law to hold a boating safety certificate may operate the vessel without the required certificate for up to 120 days from date of purchase.
  • Persons 18 years of age or older may rent a motor boat without a boating safety certificate provided that the operator of the livery holds a certificate, demonstrates the use of the vessel and safety equipment, and the person renting demonstrates their understanding of the vessels operation and safety equipment. Those under the age of 18 must have a boating safety certificate in order to rent a vessel.

Motor Boat Operators Exempted From Having To Hold A Boating Safety Certificate:

  • Persons born before May 1, 1996.
  • Certified New York Safe boating instructors.
  • Members of the USCG Auxiliary or US Power Squadron.
  • Persons licensed by NYS Parks, the United States Coast Guard or Canadian Coast Guard to operate commercial vessels.
  • Police officers, peace officers, fire and rescue personnel, and life guards when acting pursuant to assigned duties
  • A resident of another state or country who is the holder of a valid boating safety certificate issued according to the laws of their home state or country

Before you hit the water, remember to keep safety in mind!

Thanks for reading,


James Reed
Managing Partner
Best Lawyers’ “2015 & 2017 Lawyer of the Year”
NY & PA Injury & Malpractice Lawyer
Ziff Law Firm, LLP
Office: (607)733-8866
Toll-Free: 800-ZIFFLAW (943-3529)
Blogs: and

Jim Reed Named Among Best Lawyers in U.S. for Sixth Year In A Row

Jim Reed is managing partner of the Ziff Law Firm.

Jim Reed is Managing Partner of the Ziff Law Firm.

Jim Reed, Managing Partner of the Ziff Law Firm in Elmira, has been selected by his peers as a “Best Lawyer in America” in a national directory of top-rated attorneys for the sixth year in a row.

Jim, selected as a Best Lawyer in Personal Injury and Medical Malpractice law, was named to the 2017 Best Lawyers in America guide following a survey of lawyers in his geographical region and areas of practice. Reed was first selected for the 2012 guide.

In September 2014, Jim was named the 2015 Plaintiffs’ Lawyer of the Year by the Best Lawyers in America guide among personal injury lawyers in the Southern New York Region, based on the recommendations of lawyers in Chemung, Steuben, Tompkins, Broome and Tioga, N.Y., counties.

JIm, who has been practicing law since 1986, has argued cases at every level in the New York State court system and has successfully handled many multi-million dollar cases. His practice handles serious personal injury, bicycle accident and medical malpractice cases in NY and PA.

Jim’s leadership, experience and hard work have helped to made this the best year ever at the Ziff Law Firm, with multi-million dollar recoveries on behalf of our injured clients.

His selection as a Best Lawyer shows that he has an excellent reputation in the Twin Tiers legal community, and a trial lawyer’s reputation means everything.

Every client should care about the reputation of their lawyer because it can influence the success or failure of their case. If you have a good reputation, as Jim does, opposing counsel and judges afford you courtesy and respect. They know that every case handled by a lawyer of Jim’s stature is a good case.

Jim is also the legal expert for WETM-TV in Elmira and appears in a segment called “Law Talk” at about 12:20 p.m. each Wednesday during WETM’s noon newscast to discuss legal issues in the news.

Thank you for reading,


Adam M. Gee, Esq.
NY and PA Injury and Malpractice Attorney
The Ziff Law Firm, LLP
303 William Street
Elmira, NY  14901
Phone: (607)733-8866
Fax: (607)732-6062
Email: [email protected]



NY Toughens Regulations On Boats And Other Watercraft, Hopes To Curb Invasive Species

H39DawnLeftRunSpread2Gal-634x390Boaters and operators of other watercraft in New York State — including the Finger Lakes, of course — are now required to clean and drain their vessels before hitting the water to help stop the spread of invasive species like zebra mussels.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation earlier this month adopted regulations requiring owners to remove visible plant and animal matter from boats, canoes and any other motorized or paddled vessel, before reaching the water. All watercraft owners are also required to clean trailers.

logo_sah-vert-200pxDEC Commissioner Joe Martens said boats and boat trailers can spread invasive species, a threat to our ecosystem.

Before launching, boaters are asked to inspect and remove all mud, plants and other organic material, and drain the bilge.

The state has a great step-by-step inspection process here. The steps are check, clean, drain, dry and disinfect.

You can read the new regulations here.

You can learn more about aquatic invasive species in New York State here.

Read some basic questions and answers about aquatic invasive species here to learn more.

Here is the first question and answer:

Q: What is an aquatic invasive species?

A: According to New York State Environmental Conservation Law, an invasive species is a species that is not native to an ecosystem and causes or is likely to cause significant economic or environmental harm, or harm human health. In reality, the species rarely have any human health implications, but do have the potential to outcompete native species and grow or reproduce to nuisance proportions in a body of water. In certain cases, these species may be native to the U.S. or another section of NY, but are not native to the entire state. White perch and alewife are an example of two fish species that are native to the marine and coastal region of NY, but have become problematic when introduced to inland waters. In other cases, invasive species may be introduced from other regions of the world.

Thanks for reading, and remember to check, clean, drain, dry and disinfect!

Thanks for reading,


Adam M. Gee, Esq.
NY and PA Injury and Malpractice Attorney
The Ziff Law Firm, LLP
303 William Street
Elmira, NY  14901
Phone: (607)733-8866
Fax: (607)732-6062
Email: [email protected]



Practical Safety Advice for Operating Your Personal Watercraft, from a NY Accident Attorney

Jet Ski Personal Water Craft PWC off Morro Str...

It is another gorgeous day on the Finger Lakes in Upstate NY. Before you head out on the water, however, there are some safety concepts you should consider first— especially if you are operating a personal watercraft.

A personal watercraft, or PWC, is a motorboat less than 16 feet in length that is powered by a jet pump instead of a propeller. Instead of riding inside it, the operator stands, kneels, or sits on the craft. Sound familiar? You may know a PWC by its more common names, like Ski-Doo, Waverunner, and Jet Ski.

Before you hand over the keys to your Jet Ski to your excited teen or take off for a quick spin around the lake, here are some items to consider about the laws surrounding operation of PWC:

Education Requirements

New York requires that anyone operating a personal watercraft complete an approved course in boating safety or otherwise be accompanied, on board, by someone age 18 or older who has an approved boating safety certificate.You must carry your boating safety certificate with you at all times when operating a PWC. You can find out more about this course here.

Minimum Age for Operation

In order to operate a PWC in the state of New York, the PWC operator must be at least 14 years old and hold an approved boating safety certificate.  

It is not recommended, but those under age 14 may operate a PWC if there is a certified operator over age 18 on board. If this is the case, please be sure to exercise caution!

In terms of riding onboard a PWC, be sure that small children do not ride in front of the adult operating the craft. It is also especially important to ensure that all passengers can keep both feet on the deck to better maintain balance while the PWC is moving.


–          PWC operation is prohibited between sunset and sunrise.

–          PWC operation is prohibited within 500 feet of bathing and beach/swimming areas. The speed limit is 5 mph within 100 feet of shore, docks, rafts, or anchored boats.

–          As a general safety rule, avoid reckless operation of PWC. Don’t weave through congested traffic, jump the wake of another vessel, or play chicken. Not only is it unsafe to you, it endangers (and likely angers!) other boaters in your area.

Required Equipment

You are legally required to have a:

  • Life Jacket (required to be worn by all persons). While it is not required, it is smart to wear an orange or other bright-colored life jacket for better visibility from larger boats.
  • Engine Cut-off Lanyard
  • Sound Producing Device (i.e. horn, whistle, etc.)
  • Visual Distress Signal
  • Backfire Flame Arrestor
  • Fire Extinguisher (on waters under USCG jurisdiction)

Recommended equipment:

  • Eye Wear – goggles or sunglasses
  • Wet Suit
  • Gloves
  • Practical Footwear

Renting a PWC

You must be at least 16 years old and have proof of completion of an approved boating safety course in order to rent a PWC. After you show your ID and proof of age, the rental operator is required to show correct operating procedures and proper use of safety equipment.

Operating Behaviors to Avoid: General Tips from the New York State Parks Department

While these are not official laws, it is extremely wise to avoid the following behaviors:

  • Operating continuously in one location
  • Operating in groups/packs
  • Operating too close to shore, docks, marinas
  • Operating too close to fisherman
  • Operating in and around launching areas
  • Starting too early – Sunrise is early in summer.
  • Operation near environmentally sensitive areas or disturbing wildlife
  • Forcing larger craft to maneuver unnecessarily or excessively, especially commercial vessels

General Safety Advice

Before you operate a PWC on your own, go for a ride with an experienced operator and ensure that you understand how your craft works. Once you get the hang of it, you are sure to have fun— as long as you stay safe!

To find out more about PWC operation, visit or contact us at 1-800-ZIFF-LAW. As an accident attorney, I have seen firsthand the tragedy of many boating accident cases; hopefully, these guidelines will help to prevent accidents and keep you and your family safe.

Thanks for reading.

Thanks, Jim

James B. Reed
NY & PA Injury & Malpractice Lawyer
Ziff Law Firm, LLP
Office: (607)733-8866
Toll-Free: 800-ZIFFLAW (943-3529)


Steer Clear of Buzzed Boating: a NY Accident Attorney’s Warning

We have all heard about driving while intoxicated and its effects. What is less often considered, however, is boating while intoxicated (BWI). For so many people, boating is synonymous with rest and relaxation; what better way to relax than with a couple of drinks? Unfortunately, that very thought is incredibly dangerous. Careless or reckless operation, often exacerbated by drinking alcohol, is the leading cause of boating injuries and deaths. The penalties for BWI are just as severe as those for drunk driving— and BWI is just as dangerous.

Think about it: many of the people who operate boats have spent less time operating a boat than they have spent driving a car. In a boat, factors such as the glare, heat, wind, sun, and spray can intensify the effects of alcohol. Those factors combined with the engine noise and the boat’s motion and vibration can cause fatigue and slow reaction times.

And not just reaction times are affected by drugs and alcohol. Alcohol affects the skills needed to operate a watercraft:  ability to focus, peripheral vision, night vision, judgment, coordination, and balance. That means that, if you drink and operate a boat, in addition to being a danger to other boaters, you are a danger to yourself. A boat is an unstable platform, and a large percentage of boating fatalities result from passengers falling overboard. Alcohol decreases your coordination and impairs your abilities should you find yourself immersed in water. Good swimmers have drowned because they drank, drove a boat, fell overboard, and then, disorientated and dazed, swam down instead of to the water’s surface. It is tragic and unnecessary. That is why there are strict consequences in place for BWI offenders.

The penalties for a BWI conviction are the same as for a drunk-driving conviction: this could include jail time, expensive fines, probation, and a driver’s license revocation. You will also be stuck with a criminal offense on your record indefinitely.

In New York, you may be arrested for BWI for operating a boat, jet ski, or other watercraft with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of .08% or higher. Due to Zero Tolerance laws, the legal limit for minors is .02%. If a law enforcement officer notices a boat being driven erratically, he or she may pull the vessel over. During that time, the officer may then administer a series of field tests. Your BAC may be determined through a breath, blood, or urine test (New York law enforcement agents most commonly prefer to use the breathalyzer test).

I have been a personal injury attorney for more than 25 years, and I have seen too many accidents caused by BWI incidents. Thinking about boating should conjure up images of time spent relaxing and spending time with loved ones— without the alcohol. Remember to stay safe; your life and the lives of everyone else on the water depends on it.

Thanks for reading.

Thanks, Jim

James B. Reed
NY & PA Injury & Malpractice Lawyer
Ziff Law Firm, LLP
Office: (607)733-8866
Toll-Free: 800-ZIFFLAW (943-3529)


Boating Safety: Your Questions Answered by a NY Accident Attorney (and Boating Enthusiast!)

The fact is undeniable: one look at the pristine Finger Lakes and you know that we live in a beautiful area. With temperatures in the 70s and 80s this week, more boaters are hitting the water early this year. As a boater myself, I certainly understand the allure of taking to the water; as such, I thought it would be prudent to answer some frequently asked questions about boating laws in New York State. So, whether you are tubing on Keuka Lake or taking a kayak out on the Chemung River, hopefully these answers will help you make the most of this gorgeous weather— and stay safe in the process.

All of these answers apply to New York State laws only. To find out more about New York boating laws and regulations, please visit For more tips, you can also consult a past blog post by Adam Gee here.

What is the speed limit on the Finger Lakes?

There is no set speed limit on Seneca Lake because it is considered an international waterway, but it is still smart to follow general rules like “Have your boat under proper control at all times” and “Appropriately reduce your speed when near shore or in congested areas”.

However on most of the other Finger Lakes there ARE speed limits.  For example, on Keuka Lake, the boating speed limit is 45 mph during daylight, 25 mph after sunset until sunrise, and 5 mph within 200 feet of the shore, rocks, docks, rafts or moored vessels (unless pulling up or dropping off a water skier).

While the New York State Parks Department cited those same general guidelines, always be on the look-out for posted speed limits in your area.

What safety equipment should I have on hand in my boat?

You are required to have:

  • Life preservers
  • A personal flotation device for each person on board the boat
  • A fire extinguisher (You may be required to have more than one depending on the size of your boat.)
  • Visual Distress Signals. During daylight, this could mean orange distress flags. From sunset to sunrise, boats of 16 feet or more are required to have red flares.
  • An anchor
  •  If your boat is 39 feet or longer, you are required to have a mechanical sound warning device (i.e. a horn, bell, or whistle).
  • White navigation lights. The bow and stern of your craft are required to be marked with white lanterns or lights to warn other boats. Sailboats require additional lighting in some circumstances. You can find more information in the New York State Boater’s Guide.

Optional Equipment it’s Good to Have On-Hand:

  • First Aid Kit
  • Bailer
  • Boat Hook
  • Oar/ Paddle
  • Compass
  • Marine Radio
  • Tool kit
  • Binoculars

Who must wear a life jacket while boating?

–          For children under age twelve, the life jacket must be on unless they are in a totally enclosed cabin.

          From November 1st to May 1st, all people aboard a moving pleasure vehicle less than 21 feet in length must be wearing a life jacket.

–          Anyone aboard a Personal Water Craft (PWC). Personal water crafts include— but are not limited to— Jet Ski, Wave Runner, and Sea-Doo models.

–          Any person who is being towed by a boat (i.e. when one is wakeboarding, water skiing, tubing, etc.)

With this said, you must have a personal floatation device on hand for every person on a boat. While adults technically are not legally required to be wearing one while boating, it is best to air on the side of caution: when in doubt, wear a life jacket. As this blog post shows, life jackets can save lives.

Am I required to take a boating safety course?

You must hold a safety certificate if:

You operate a personal watercraft (PWC, examples of which are listed above) and are at least 14 years of age.

You wish to operate a motorboat (other than a PWC) and you are between the ages of 10 and 18.

 If you are less than 10 years old, you may operate a motorboat (non-PWC) only if someone over age 18 is on board with you. Anyone may operate a personal watercraft if someone at least 18 years old is riding on the craft and he/she holds a safety certificate.

Taking a boating safety course is part of the New York State Parks Department’s main rules for safe boating. This includes an 8-hour classroom session and a proctored examination. You can find an overview of the course here and you can see the classes available in the local area here or by calling 1-800-336-BOAT.

As a personal injury attorney with more than 20 years of experience– and particular experience handling boating accident cases on a number of the Finger Lakes – I understand both the joys and potential dangers of boating. According to the U.S. Coast Guard, seven of the top 10 causes of boating accidents are related to human mistakes. Don’t become part of that statistic: follow these guidelines, remember to think about safety first, and enjoy another wonderful summer in beautiful upstate New York!

Thanks for reading.


James B. Reed
NY & PA Injury & Malpractice Lawyer
Ziff Law Firm, LLP
Office: (607)733-8866
Toll-Free: 800-ZIFFLAW (943-3529)


NY Boat Accident Lawyer Discusses Recent Seneca Lake Boating Fatality

Michael Tangye (courtesy of The Palm Beach Post)

I was within minutes of witnessing a horrific boating accident on Seneca Lake that killed a boater.

Last Saturday night, I took a friend who was visiting from Colorado on the Sunset Cruise on the True Love schooner sailing excursion in Watkins Glen, N.Y.

After a nice dinner, we boarded my boat for the eight-mile trip to my Seneca Lake cottage. We motored north out of the Seneca Lake marina, not knowing that minutes later a tragic collision was to occur when a boat headed south drove into an unlit, concrete seawall.

Schuyler County Sheriff’s depuities said Michael Tangye, 42, of Boynton Beach, Fla., was killed Saturday evening when he was ejected from the boat he was operating when it struck the seawall, according to the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle Newspaper.

Deputies said two other passengers, 24-year-old Ashley Kay of Orland Park, Ill., and 25-year-old Joseph Hager of Montour Falls are in stable condition at Robert Packer Hospital in Sayre.

Police haven’t said yet whether alcohol played a role in the crash. The investigation continues.

Two veteran boaters told WETM-TV that the concrete seawall is dangerous because it needs more lights.

Doug Viele of Horseheads and John Kizale of Sayre, who say they have been boating on Seneca Lake for 30 years, said they have seen and heard about many accidents at the seawall and are amazed there have not been more fatalities.

“The wall needs some type of lights in the center because it’s a big dark hole,” Kizale told WETM. “It has lights on each end but the middle is totally black and it’s easy to run into. It certainly is dangerous.”

“When it’s dark out, it’s very dangerous,” Viele added. “If you have headlights in your boat, turn them on because you can’t see that wall if you don’t.”

Let this accident serve as a tragic reminder of dangers in the water for all boaters. Let’s be safe out there!

Thanks for reading.


James B. Reed
NY & PA Boat Accident Lawyer
Ziff Law Firm, LLP
Office: (607)733-8866
Toll-Free: 800-ZIFFLAW (943-3529)
Blogs: and


Two Drownings Remind Us About Importance of Life Jackets, NY Boat Accident Lawyer Says

A man wearing a life jacket, with another life...

Life jackets save lives. Two recent drownings are a stark reminder.

Two people drowned over the weekend, and at least one of the two – a 16-year-old girl – was not wearing a life jacket.

It’s possible both were not wearing life jackets, authorities said.

One of the drownings was on the Susquehanna River in Sayre, the other on a pond in Yates County.

These two tragedies might have been avoided if they had worn life jackets.

“I’ve never read about or heard about emergency personnel pulling a body out of water that had a life preserver on,” Jim Pfiffer, the director of the Friends of the Chemung River Watershed, told WENY-TV.

On Saturday, Michael S. Smith, 47, and his friend Kenneth Foss were on the Susquehanna River just south of the Sayre boat launch when their boat capsized, investigators told the Star-Gazette.

Foss returned safely to shore but Smith was trapped between the boat and a tree limb and drowned. His death was ruled accidental. Authorities did not know whether the two men were wearing life jackets.

Early Sunday, 16-year-old Susan Hoover of Penn Yan drowned when she and four others were thrown into a town of Benton pond when their five-person paddle boat took on water and tipped over. There were no life jackets aboard the boat, authorities told the Star-Gazette.

Her body was found in 19 feet of water hours later, investigators said.

Because of the circumstances of Smith’s death, it’s impossible to know whether a life jacket would’ve saved him.

But both victims would’ve had far better chances to survive with life jackets.

Never go out on the water without a life jacket at hand, and if you are in a boat on moving water you should always be wearing a life jacket!

To see the WETM-TV report, click here.

For an area with so much water for recreational use, it is a shame that accidents like this occur year after year. Click here to see our warning from last year about the danger of swimming in the rivers.

Thanks for reading, and stay safe this summer!

Adam M. Gee, Esq.
NY and PA Injury and Accident Attorney
The Ziff Law Firm, LLP
303 William Street
Elmira, NY  14901
Phone: (607)733-8866
Fax: (607)732-6062
Email: [email protected]









New Campaign Reminds Us – Don’t Be Distracted When You Drive, Walk Or Ride A Bike!

Typical scene at a local emergency room

A new campaign aims to cut down on accidents caused by unnecessary distractions.

We live in a world of distractions, and a new campaign launched this week in the Southern Tier aims to remind everyone – pedestrians, bicyclists and motorists – about the dangers of not paying attention.

The traffic safety boards of Chemung and Steuben counties kicked off “Be Alert, Distraction Kills” in hopes of curbing accidents.

“We had a spate of bicycle and pedestrian deaths in Elmira, but that alone was not the reason for this initiative,” Jay Schissell, vice chairman of the Chemung County Traffic Safety Board and director of the Elmira-Chemung Transportation Council, told the Star-Gazette newspaper at a news conference.

“If there’s one commonality to the crashes we’ve been having recently, it’s distraction,” he added. “Distraction on the part of all users in the transportation system.”

He’s right! We all have the potential to get distracted when we walk, ride or drive – too often by cell phones and other devices.

But it is OUR JOB (and our legal obligation) to pay attention!  Failing to do so needlessly endangers other people and it just is NOT right that we should put someone else at risk of serious injury (or death) just because we don’t care enough to pay attention!

Schissell listed some all-too-common distractions – cell phones, CD players in cars, eating, putting on makeup, wearing headphones and using illegal drugs.

We forget how dangerous distractions can be until someone gets hurt!

Law enforcement will be involved in getting the message out, too.

The Elmira Police Department used a grant to buy a distracted driving simulator to be used in classrooms.

“We don’t want it to be just a video game,” Police Chief Michael Robertson told the Star-Gazette. “We want it to be an educational tool.”

Corning Police Chief Salvatore Trentanelli said they also plan an educational campaign, adding, “However, there will be some enforcement maintained by the police agencies.”

The campaign will also include portable message signs along some roads and YouTube videos, according to news reports, but in the end, it is up to all of us to STAY FOCUSED!

“It’s not for bicyclists, it’s not for pedestrians, it’s not for motorists,” said Schissell of the campaign. “It’s for everybody.”

Let’s remember that – and BE SAFE!

To see the news reports:

Elmira Star-Gazette

The Leader in Corning




Thanks, Jim

James B. Reed
NY & PA Injury & Malpractice Lawyer
Ziff Law Firm, LLP
Office: (607)733-8866
Toll-Free: 800-ZIFFLAW (943-3529)


Finger Lakes Boat Accident Lawyer: Fatal Boat Explosion Reinforces Importance of Safe Refueling!

Summer boating season on lakes and other waterways in New York and Pennsylvania is here!  As we prepare to head back out on the water, there are a whole host of things we need to be concerned about to make sure our boating trips are safe.  What some boater fail to recall, though, is that the most important safety issue they face may face all day occurs before they ever leave the marina.

Boaters are used to being warned about alcohol, speed and safety vests.  But a May 31 fatal accident in Erie, Pa., serves as a stark reminder of the dangers boaters face when refueling.

A 25-year-old Erie woman was killed and nine others, including a 2-year-old child, were injured when a 32-foot Wellcraft exploded after refueling at the Erie Yacht Club.

The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission is leading the investigation with the Erie Bureau of Fire, according to news reports.

Erie fire investigators told the Erie Times-News newspaper that they believe a faulty gasket in one of the boat’s two tanks, which combined can hold 200 gallons of fuel, allowed gas fumes to back up into the boat’s engine compartment instead of being blown out.

The buildup of fumes fueled an explosion that investigators said was set off when the boat backfired as the boat’s owner tried to start the boat after refueling, the newspaper reported.

Here is the latest news: Investigators will now meet with experts to try to determine the cause of the explosion, the newspaper reported June 12.

Fuel fires or explosions caused three deaths and 113 injuries in boating accidents nationwide in 2009, according to the most recent information from the Coast Guard.

Refueling tips

The Coast Guard offers boaters these refueling tips:

Before fueling

  • Put out all smoking materials and secure your boat to the dock.
  • Know how much fuel your boat holds and how much you need.
  • Turn off engine, electronics and extinguish all flames.
  • Send passengers ashore and close hatches, ports and doors.
  • Remove portable tanks and fill them on the dock.

During fueling

  • Make sure you have selected the type of fuel you need.
  • Be certain fuel is going into the proper fill entry.
  • Use an absorbent pad or doughnut around the deck fill to catch spills.
  • Maintain contact between the nozzle and deck fill to prevent sparking.
  • Hold the nozzle when refueling — don’t use a hands-free clip.
  • Fuel slowly and listen for a change in tone as the tank gets full.
  • Don’t rely on the automatic shut-off device as they often don’t shut off in time. Marina fuel pumps flow at a faster rate than land-based pumps.
  • Resist topping off. As the temperature rises, fuel expands. Fill tanks to 90 percent capacity to leave room for expansion.

After fueling

  • Wipe up all spills and drips on deck from the overboard fuel vent. Dispose of used pads properly.
  • Do not use detergents to disperse a sheen or spill on the water. It’s illegal.
  • Open ports, hatches and doors to ventilate.
  • Before starting the engine, operate the blower for three to five minutes.
  • Sniff the bilges and engine compartment for fumes.

Remember that boating safety begins at the dock!

During our too short summers I am on Keuka Lake with my family as often as weather permits.  Fellow Ziff Law attorney Jim Reed spends his summers on beautiful Seneca Lake.  We are boaters ourselves, and know the pressure that Captain Dad is under to get the family out on the water as soon as possible.  There are so many things to remember, and most of them take time to address.  I have experienced the temptation to fire the boat up immediately after gassing up.  The boat is full of kids intent on a day of swimming, sunning, skiing and tubing – the cooler is packed  – the sunscreen is on  – everyone wants to get started.  It is at this point that we have to do the responsible thing.  Turn on the blowers, open the hatch and sniff for gas, make sure that everything is safe before you turn that key. The tragedy in Erie, Pennsylvania that inspired this story is a horrific reminder of what can happen when we take shortcuts.

Thanks for reading, and stay safe on the water this summer!

Adam M. Gee, Esq.
NY and PA Injury and Accident Attorney
The Ziff Law Firm, LLP
303 William Street
Elmira, NY  14901
Phone: (607)733-8866
Fax: (607)732-6062
Email: [email protected]