A rare tragedy, but one that has disturbingly caused more than a couple deaths nationwide in the last few years, is people driving off of boat ramps. The idea seems ludicrous, but on a dark night, an unlit and unmarked boat launch can look like any other dead end street. Add to that the extenuating circumstances of inclement weather, speed, mental capacity or substance abuse and in all likelihood that late night drive turns injurious or deadly.

You might remember the news story a couple years ago about the two hikers from Pennsylvania, one of them pregnant, who were saved after getting lost in the fog. They also became lost and disoriented on the way home, driving off a boat launch and into the ocean, killing them both.

Two men drown in Smithtown, NY in 2008 when they drove into the Nissequogue River via an unmarked boat ramp during a rainstorm. The area was lit, but the boat ramp continues unobstructed from the roadway. The families of the deceased filed a wrongful death suit, which settled successfully. Since the deaths, dead end, caution signs, reflectors and a flashing light have been installed to warn unsuspecting motorists. Also, a stone planter now obstructs the path of the ramp to prevent someone from driving directly into the river.

There have been a few of these incidents in our own vicinity as well. Three women escaped from a rented SUV which plunged into the Mercer Slough after the GPS led them in the wrong direction one dark June night in 2011.

Many boat ramps have had recurring incidents of people driving into the water.  For instance,in 2011, a couple from Vancouver drowned when they drove their vehicle into Necanicum River at the Quatat Park in Seaside, Oregon.  The roadway turned into a poorly marked, unobstructed boat ramp depositing directly into the river. The family received a settlement from the City of Seaside, but nothing was done to mark or obstruct the boat launch. Again in April of this year, the river claimed another car. Luckily, the family of three escaped unharmed.

In Tacoma, the Narrows Marina boat launch has had 8 vehicles plunge into the Puget Sound, killing four people, yet it remains dark and until recently, unmarked. With the popularity of new businesses in the area, Boathouse 19 Restaurant and Bar and Narrows Brewing Company, this dangerous ramp could become even deadlier. Watch this video from the News Tribune about the Narrows Marina boat 

Liability lies on the shoulders of the boat ramp’s owner. If it’s a government owned facility, then that organization is responsible for ensuring the safety of its citizens. If the marina is owned by a private party, it is up to them to make sure lighting and signage guarantees their patrons safety, otherwise, they risk claims for premises liability, or worse, wrongful death.