Premises Liability Concerns in Marinas and Boatyards Published by Marina Dock Age Expert Article

In this article, originally published in Marina Dock Age, Marina and Boatyard Expert, Carl Wolf discusses some of the many safety concerns facing marina and boatyard operators. He also provides guidance on industry inspection and maintenance practices to address many of these hazards.

The experts at Robson Forensic have investigated thousands of premises liability claims since 1987. Investigation of these incidents can involve experts specializing in walkway and pedestrian safety, marine accident reconstruction, recreational boating and rules of the road, or experts like Carl who specialize in marina and boatyard operations.

Marina Safety Equipment and Policies

June 2015, Marina Dock Age Safety Article
By Carl F. Wolf, CMM

In this article, I’d like to address some marina safety equipment and policies for the customers and guests who use your marina. While not an inclusive list, the equipment and policies should become part of the management practices at your marina.

No Swimming

It used to be a common sight to watch boaters and their guests jump off the back of the boats and swim in the marina basin. Today, we are aware of the dangers of swimming within the marina basin. Those dangers range from stray electricity, propeller injuries, underwater currents, and hidden submerged objects. I recommend that each marina adopt a “No Swimming” policy within the marina basin and post signage to that effect.

Safety/Rescue Ladders

In my travels, I have observed marinas with safety/rescue ladders ranging from one at each slip to ones without a single ladder within the entire marina. The intent of these ladders is not to provide access to our customers, but a way to safely egress from the water or to provide safe access to/from a boat. There are challenges to making sure a person who has fallen in the water can get out safely or helping a boater who needs to get off a boat. Those challenges include: water level fluctuations; water currents; cold water temperatures; accidents/injuries; and vertical bulkheads. Review the risks at your marina, create a plan to determine the placement and number of safety/rescue ladders needed.

Life Rings

If someone falls in the water and that person has trouble swimming (as a non-swimmer, has an injury, or due to water conditions) and he is unable to safely reach a safety/rescue ladder, how would you assist him in getting out of the water? Having a life ring readily available could be your answer. The life ring is easy to throw and easy to retrieve and should be part of your overall safety policy.

Life rings need to be approved by the U.S. Coast Guard as Type IV personal flotation device. Make sure that adequate line is attached to the life ring to retrieve the person in the water or in case you need to throw the life ring again. I recommend that you train your employees on an annual basis in the use of life rings. Again, review the risks at your marina, and create a plan to determine the placement and number of life rings needed.

Tripping Points

As a frequent visitor to many marinas, I can’t help but notice the tripping hazards associated with a marina. Noticeable tripping hazards at a marina are: transition points (where a ramp meets the pier); unmarked curbs; cleats that are poorly placed; customer lines, hoses or electrical cords laying on or across the dock; deck boards that have broken free on one end of the board; and screws or nails that have popped up.

Take a walk through your marina, identify these tripping hazards and others which are not mentioned in this article and create an action plan to address the tripping hazards. Some of these tripping hazards could reappear on a frequent basis. Conducting a dockwalk on a daily basis will give you the opportunity to identify and correct these hazards before an incident or injury occurs.

Slippery Decks

Whether it’s due to rain, ice, frost, the type of deck material used, or the incline of a ramp, the decks of our walkways and ramps can become slippery. In the northern states, we are accustomed to seeing signs posted on the highway stating “BRIDGE ICES BEFORE ROAD”. The same is true at marinas. The decks of our docks and ramps freeze before shoreside walkways. Your marina needs to address the slippery decks with proper signage, using materials that are resilient to ice, or addressing the slippery surface, such as the removal of snow from the dock.

First Aid

Marinas are more frequently providing first aid supplies and training their employees to handle first aid issues. Signage near the public and private phones at your marina should have the phone number posted for the first responders to your marina. Work with the first responders in your area as you prepare a written first aid safety plan for your marina.

Today, more and more marinas have Automated External Defibrillator’s (AED’s) located at the ship’s store, the fuel pier, or in the Dockmaster’s office. Create a dialogue with the First responders in your area on what you should include in your first aid plan: training for your employees; supplies to keep available; and/or equipment to have on-site.

Each marina has an obligation and a supervisory responsibility to evaluate and address safety issues or risks at their marina. It is important to understand the liability associated with safety issues, and if you neglect these and other safety issues, your insurance may not cover you if there is an accident due to your negligence. Invite your insurance company to walk through your marina with you to help identify potential risks, then create and implement your safety plan.

Marina & Boatyard Forensic Investigations

The marina is a dynamic environment where vehicles pulling boat trailers interface with pedestrians, cyclists, other motorists, and watercraft. In addition to the roads, walkways, and buildings involved at most other facilities, the marina introduces a waterfront and great expanses of open water. Investigating injuries and other life threatening incidents in this unique environment requires industry experience and decades of relevant experience. Robson Forensic offers the nation’s foremost experts in marina and boatyard safety.

Submit an inquiry or contact the author of this article to discuss your case.

Featured Expert

Carl F. Wolf, Marina & Boatyard Expert

Carl F. Wolf, CMM, CMI

Marina & Boatyard Expert
Carl is an expert in the operations and management of marinas, boatyards, and dry-stack boat storage facilities. Throughout his career, since 1976, Carl owned his own marina related businesses,… read more.

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