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Does the captain really have to go down with the ship?

You have likely heard stories romanticizing the exploits of sea captains who heroically chose to down with their sinking ships. This age-old maxim has become so engrained in popular culture that many view it as an actual maritime law. While there is no actual law stating that the captain must go down with the ship, both U.S. and international laws do set the expectation that captains have a duty to consider the safety of their passengers above all else. The question is does such an expectation extend to you when you are navigating New York’s waterways in your own personal boat? 

Hopefully you will never encounter a scenario which results in your recreational boat ending up at the bottom of a lake or river, yet the law does place added responsibilities on you as its operator. According to the New York State Office of Parks and Recreation, those responsibilities specifically related to your passengers include: 

  • Avoiding risks that could put them in danger
  • Not allowing them to ride on bows, seatbacks or gunwales
  • Encouraging everyone to wear a life jacket

You should also avoid overloading your boat with both passengers and gear. The law prohibits you from operating your boat while intoxicated as well, placing the legal limit of blood-alcohol concentration to determine impairment at 0.8 percent (the same as it is for motorists). 

In terms of aiding others in the event of a boating accident, the law places the responsibility on every boater to render all practical and necessary aid to their own passengers as well as others distressed both on and in the water. Practical and necessary aid is defined anything up to the point on endangering your own vessel and your passengers. 

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