Rendering Assistance: What is your Obligation?
Rendering assistance to a vessel in distress is requirement for all vessel operators. That obligation ends with the following. One, doing so would endanger their own vessel or passengers. Two, another vessel is already assisting the vessel in distress. Three, the persons on board the vessel in distress say that they no longer need assistance. To be clear, we render assistance to a boater in distress to the extent of which we are able. On the other hand, don’t make the situation worse by adding to the problem
Be aware of the Physical Surroundings
Be very careful when approaching a boater in distress. It might be the physical surroundings that have the boat in trouble. For instance, let’s say we see a boat caught up on rocks or a reef. It may very well be the currents in the area. In this example, don’t get too close. Backwash cycles may cause major trouble when it comes to river rescues. Always keep in mind that low water areas make up the majority of running aground incidents.
Are there legal ramifications?
Here is an excerpt from an interesting recent article written by David Weil on September 9, 2021 for The Log: California’s Boating and Fishing News
QUESTION: “I recently read a social media post about a rescue at sea that was successfully performed by a boat owner who was in the vicinity of the boat in trouble. It raised a few questions in my mind about our responsibilities as boat owners. So, is the duty to render assistance a custom of the sea or is it an actual legal requirement? Are there penalties for failing to render assistance? What if I damage the other boat or injure someone during the rescue?”
ANSWER: The short answer is yes, you must render assistance to a vessel in distress, and you can go to jail for failing to do so!
In the United States, federal law (46 USCS sec. 2304) requires the master of any vessel subject to U.S. jurisdiction to “render assistance to any individual found at sea in danger of being lost,” so long as the assistance can be rendered without endangering the rescuing vessel or individuals on board. This law is a part of an international treaty (the International Convention on Salvage, 1989). This extends the obligation to mariners throughout the world.
The article goes on to say:
Similar to the non-maritime “Good Samaritan Laws,” the state and federal maritime assistance laws both provide for immunity from civil liability. Of course, so long as the assistance is not rendered in a grossly negligent manner. Failure to render assistance under federal law will subject the captain to a fine of up to $1,000, imprisonment for not more than two years, or both. Violators under state law will face a similar fine and the possibility of up to six months in jail.
This is a small portion of the article. This article is worth your time to read. In any case, we urge you to talk to your local lawmakers for clarification in your state as this may vary between states.
There are other ways you can help
Aside from making a call for assistance which may be all that’s needed you can:
- Deploy your Type 4 Throwable Device or share PFD’s
- Offer any first aid supplies
- Have the individuals board your vessel as long as your capacity allows it.
- ALWAYS make sure anyone in the water is okay.
Connecticut Boating Certificates LLC is proud to include “Rendering Assistance” in our Boat Licensing course. Please view all of our Public Courses on our Public Course Schedule page. We offer 100 percent virtual classes!
Remember: There are no egos when passengers lives are in your hands.