Three people riding in boat on open water.

Different Outcomes for Inland and Great Lakes Boat Accidents

Michigan Boating Accidents: Great Lakes vs. Inland Lakes

From the Great Lakes to navigable inland waterways, boating regulations and the responses to accidents will vary based on the type of waterway, the location of the waterway, and more, a fact that many Michigan boaters don’t know. However, because each body of water can require different Courts to rule, it’s important to know the differences before you’re in an accident so if you ever are in one, you’ll be prepared.

Does it Matter Where I Was in a Boat Accident in Michigan?

Yes. Michigan’s regulations vary based on the body of water, such as the distinction between the Great Lakes and inland lakes. Because of the over 10,000 inland lakes and direct access to four of the five Great Lakes, Michigan, especially Northern Michigan, is known for its beautiful bodies of water. With the near-constant presence of boats, the chances of boating accidents increase. Even though it might seem like a lake is a lake, the status of the lake (Great Lakes vs. inland lakes) will impact the jurisdiction in which a boat accident case is tried.

Inland Lake vs Great Lakes Boat Accident Statistics

Michiganders are no strangers to boating accidents. According to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, there were 181 boating accidents in Michigan in 2020, accounting for over $2 million in property damages. According to the United States Coast Guard statistics, the Great Lakes accounted for 127 of those accidents in the same year. Thirty-three deaths occurred on Michigan waterways in 2020, while the Great Lakes accounted for 12 of them.

Common types of boating accidents include:

  • Collisions with other boats, jet skis, and other forms of watercraft
  • Crashes with docks and boat launches
  • Run-over accidents involving swimmers, tubers, skiers, or people who have fallen overboard

Michigan Great Lakes Boating Regulations

Although Michigan has long touted itself as The Great Lakes State, the Great Lakes don’t belong to just one state, which will make boating accidents on the Great Lakes a different matter than an inland lake that is fully within Michigan. For a Lake Michigan boat crash, the water is bordered by four states while the other four lakes all border Canada and various other states. Because any lawsuits that arise could be multistate or even multinational, they are handled by a Federal Court. The power for handling disputes like this is assigned to Federal Courts in Article III of the United States Constitution.

Inland Waterway Boating Regulations

If a boating accident happens on an inland lake, the case will be filed in a county-level Circuit Court, based on the county the accident was in. The reason for this is that the body of water resides within a county, and jurisdiction would fall to the county’s Courts. The inland lakes and rivers are regulated by the Michigan State Waterways Commission.

Civil vs. Criminal Charges in Boating Accidents 

Boating accidents can lead to civil cases or criminal charges, and sometimes both. If a boater is under the influence or speeding, for example, this will result in criminal charges. Accident victims will still be able to pursue damages in a civil case parallel to the criminal cases. An experienced attorney will clarify the process, especially when criminal charges are brought against the other boater.

It’s also important to note that there are differences in terms of jurisdiction for criminal charges. Much like any civil actions that arise, a criminal action on the Great Lakes, such as speeding or drunken boating will be handled by one of the federal District Courts of Michigan. For example, if you’re involved in a crash on Lake Michigan, your case will most likely end up before the Western District Court of Michigan.

Do You Need Insurance on A Boat in Michigan?

Insurance is not required for boats on Michigan waterways. Unlike cars, your boat doesn’t need insurance, even on the Great Lakes, but you are still required to register your motorized boat. The only time you are required to carry boat insurance is if you have a loan on your boat and your lender requires it.   

Experienced Michigan Boating Accident Lawyers Near Me

If you’ve been in a boating accident, you shouldn’t have to pursue justice alone. The attorneys at Dingeman & Dancer, PLC are here to help you get the compensation you deserve. Request a consultation online or call 800-626-0050  today.