From large lakes to winding rivers, streams and ponds, boating is a favorite pastime that many Colorado residents enjoy. Despite being landlocked, residents have some of the most scenic marine environments the nation has to offer. Be it fishing, riding jet skis, or simply enjoying the peaceful tranquility of the still waters, boating is an enjoyable pastime. But what happens when an enjoyable pastime turns into a painful injury?

No one expects someone to get hurt during an outing on the water. Complex maritime and boating laws can make navigating a boating accident claim a nightmare. When injuries happen, you need an experienced personal injury lawyer to review your case and provide legal advice on how to move forward. 

Downs, McDonough, Cowan & Foley, LLC understands personal injury cases and the network of laws surrounding maritime and boating accidents. Our attorneys are proud to serve clients in Durango, Colorado, as well as the neighboring areas of Telluride, Pagosa Springs, Cortez, and The Four Corners.



Boating Accidents In Colorado

Under Colorado law, any watercraft with a motor or sail operated in any public body of water must be registered with Colorado Parks and Wildlife. There are exceptions, however, including:

  • Vessels propelled manually (canoes, kayaks, paddleboards, and rafts)

  • Boats with a valid marine document issued by the United States

  • Foreign vessels using state waters temporarily

  • Boats with valid registration and in compliance with applicable federal or state laws and not used in Colorado for a period of over 60 consecutive days

  • Non-resident racing boats on days before, of, and at the site of authorized racing events

Airboats, motorboats, tugboats, wave runners, sailboards, jet skis, watercraft, powerboats, yachts, inflatable boats, and diving boats are required by state law to be registered.

Types Of Colorado Boating Accidents

Though Colorado is a landlocked state, there are lakes, rivers, and reservoirs throughout the state that permit boating. Some common boating accidents that can occur include:

  • Colliding with fixed objects

  • Colliding with other vessels

  • Flooding accidents

  • Falling overboard

  • Running aground

  • Accidents involving skiers or riders of towable objects

  • Explosions

  • Fires

  • Carbon monoxide poisoning

Liability For A Boating Accident

The following parties may potentially be held legally responsible for a boating accident:

  • The driver/owner of the boat the injured person was aboard

  • The driver/owner of the other boat in the accident

  • The boat manufacturer

  • The manufacturer of defective flotation devices, parts, or other equipment

  • The owner of a dock

  • Any person operating a boat while under the influence of alcohol

  • Any other party that contributed to the accident

It’s vital to reach out to a skilled attorney to help you navigate your personal injury claim after someone’s negligence contributed to your boating accident.

Boating Accidents Laws

Federal and state laws are in place to govern boating operations and accidents.

Federal Laws

Examples of federal laws governing commercial boating accidents in navigable waters include:

  • The Jones Act (protecting workers at sea)

  • The Oil Pollution Act (mandating the removal of oil spills and implementing procedures regarding liability)

  • The Death on the High Seas Act (allowing families of deceased sailors to pursue wrongful death claims)

State Laws

Colorado state laws concerning boating operations and accidents include:

  • All vessels must be registered with Colorado Parks and Wildlife

  • Persons under the age of 16 are not allowed to operate a vessel

  • Boating accidents resulting in injury, death, or more than $500 of property damage must be reported

  • If a fog signal is heard in times of restricted visibility, boaters should reduce speed to the minimum at which the boat can be kept on course

  • When operating a power-driven vessel, boaters must avoid any sailing vessel, any vessel not under command, unable to move, or engaged in commercial fishing

  • When operating a sailing vessel, boaters must avoid any vessel not under command, unable to maneuver, or engaged in commercial fishing

  • If two vessels are running in the same direction, the vessel that desires to pass by must give a short blast to indicate its intention

  • If meeting head-on, either vessel must signal its intention with one short blast and alter its course

  • Operating a watercraft while under the influence of alcohol (with a blood alcohol content of 0.10-.08%) is against the law

Proving Negligence

In order to prove negligence on the part of another individual following a boating accident, the claimant must show:

  • The defendant owed a legal duty of care

  • The defendant breached that duty of care

  • The breach of care caused the claimant’s injuries

Getting injured in a boating accident can change your life. Such an accident can create emotional distress, financial strain, and a lasting impact on your physical health. Regardless of the nature of your injuries, you don’t have to face the challenges alone. An experienced attorney can review your situation and explore the best legal options to recover damages.


If you or a loved one was injured in a boating accident, hiring an experienced boating attorney can make a difference. At Downs, McDonough, Cowan & Foley, LLC., we will work hard to hold the responsible party accountable and help you seek compensation. Our firm serves accident victims and their loved ones across Durango, Telluride, Pagosa Springs, and the rest of Colorado.