Boating Accidents – Statistics and Prevention

Author: Trent S. Kerns, Personal Injury Lawyer, Chesterfield, VA 

As summer rolls across the United States and families take to the water to escape the heat, many people will find themselves on boats of all shapes and sizes. Boating is generally a safe activity, but accidents can and do occur. The U.S. Coast Guard’s Office of Auxiliary and Boating Safety routinely publishes recreational boating statistics, the latest accounting for 2013. The 2013 report reveals that, although the number of accidents, injuries, and deaths all decreased from the previous year, improvements can be made in the realm of boating safety[1].

In 2013, there were 4062 recreational boating accidents across the United States. This represents a 10% decrease from the number of accidents in 2012. These accidents resulted in a total of 2620 injuries (12% less than in 2012), 560 deaths (14% less than in 2012), and $39 million in property damage. Where the cause of death was able to be determined, drowning was the predominant cause of death (77%) – other causes of death include trauma (18%), cardiac arrest (2%), hypothermia (1.5%), and carbon monoxide poisoning (1.5%). Life jackets were a key element in the drowning deaths. Of the drowning victims whose life jacket usage was reported, 84% of them were not wearing life jackets.

There are a number of other factors that were correlated with the 4062 boating accidents in 2013. For example, while 20% of the deaths occurred on a boat wherein the operator had received boating safety instruction, only 13% of deaths occurred on a vessel where the operator had received instruction from a course that met the U.S. Coast Guard-recognized national standards. The top five contributing factors in accidents are operator inattention, improper lookout, operator inexperience, excessive speed, and machinery failure. Additionally, alcohol use was the leading known contributing factor in fatal boating accidents.   

The above statistics paint a clear picture of the safety issues that affect recreational boaters. If you and your family plan on taking a boat out on the water, make sure to remember the following safety tips[2]:

  1. Be Safe Afloat. Lifejackets and safety harnesses should be provided for everyone on board. These devices can ensure your survival, but only if you they are worn. Additionally, make sure to have sets of warm and protective clothing available for everyone.
  2. Know How to Attract Attention in an Emergency. A VHF radio is an important resource to have, despite its limited range. You can call the Coast Guard using Channel 16 on your VHF radio – this may also alert other vessels in the area that may be able to provide assistance. If there is an emergency situation that involves injury or potential loss of property, issue a Mayday call on Channel 16 and DO NOT allow anyone other than the Coast Guard to move you to a different frequency. Additionally, you should carry a portable foghorn and use the whistle on your lifejacket to attract attention, if necessary.
  3. Carry an Alternative Means of Propulsion and a Spare Can of Fuel.
  4. Carry a First-Aid Kit, Fire Extinguisher, Flashlight, and Distress Flares.
  5. Be Aware. Always keep a good look out and be aware of your surroundings. Drink responsibly – drinking impairs your judgment. Be careful if you smoke, as fires at sea are very dangerous. Never use a lighter or match when fueling, and if you smell gas fumes, stop your engine immediately.
  6. Keep an Eye on Weather Conditions. Seek Shelter in Good Time. If weather conditions appear to be deteriorating, do not press on. If there is any doubt regarding your safety, call for help before it is too late. Finally, an on-board GPS can be invaluable for providing position information if you ever need assistance.

Keeping the recreational boating statistics and safety tips in mind before embarking on a boat can help keep you and your family safe. For more information on boating safety, visit the Boating Safety Resouce Center at http://www.uscgboating.org/safety/.

 About the Author: Trent Kerns is an attorney with the law firm of Allen & Allen and works out of the Chesterfield office. For over 25 years he has worked to protect the rights of Virginia residents injured in car accidents and other difficult liability cases.  


[1] U.S. Coast Guard, Office of Auxiliary and Boating Safety, 2013 Recreational Boating Statistics, http://www.uscgboating.org/assets/1/AssetManager/2013RecBoatingStats.pdf

[2] Sea Tow Foundation for Boating Safety and Education, Safety on the Sea, http://www.boatingsafety.com/safety_resources/booklets.asp

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