In 2018, the U.S. Coast Guard counted 4,145 recreational boating accidents that caused 633 deaths. That’s a fatality rate of 5.3 deaths per 100,000 recreational vehicles. There were also just over 2,500 injuries and about $46 million dollars of property damage.
The weather’s beautiful. Your boat’s ready. The rivers, lakes, and shores are calling. We get it! But here’s a reminder to keep safety top of mind while enjoying excursions with friends and family.
Here are the top 6 causes of boating accidents, as reported by the U.S. Coast Guard.
By far, the leading known contributor to accidents is alcohol use, which contributed to 19 percent of deaths. Remember that blood alcohol content laws are the same for drivers of cars and boats. Underage drinking laws and penalties also still apply. Alcohol use while boating can lead to reckless boating, excessive speed, and other avoidable risks.
- Operator Inattention
The boating vibe is definitely one of relaxation and fun. But it’s imperative that drivers remain attentive to their surroundings. Rocks, swimmers, submerged trees, floating debris, other watercraft and changing weather can quickly turn conditions hazardous.
- Improper Lookout
Besides the driver, every vessel must have an appointed lookout — someone who monitors for boat traffic; nearby vessels; and risks of collision, stranding and grounding. If anyone in the group is doing water sports, the lookout must alert nearby boats that someone’s in the water. Accidents in this category were due to there being no designated lookout or the lookout was not doing their job. For every boat trip, make sure you appoint someone and that they understand and fulfill their duties.
- Operator Inexperience
Safely operating a boat is not only about knowing how to drive and handle that specific vessel, but also knowing the relevant boating laws and regulations (including locale-specific rules). Boater education classes are a great first step to gain experience and know-how. Anyone driving a boat must also know how to handle emergency situations.
- Equipment Failure
Just as with cars, boats need regular maintenance, repairs, and upkeep. Make sure your boat is “water-ready” before taking it out for the season. This includes the engine and mechanical parts, as well as life preservers, flares, navigation lights, and other safety items. Do a test run of the safety equipment so you don’t have an unexpected failure out on the water.
- Excessive Speed
High speeds make debris, hazards, swimmers and other boats harder to see, and decreases reaction time. Be mindful of posted speed limits and speed laws, which should be followed at all times. Also, inexperienced drivers sometimes forget that boats don’t have brakes like cars, which can get them into trouble quickly in an emergency or unexpected situation.
Some Final Reminders…
Although related to the above top causes, we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention the following 4 boating risks to keep in mind.
- Busy Summer Days — Beautiful weather translates to crowded waters. More traffic means the driver and lookout must remain vigilant and attentive to hazards.
- Reckless Boating — This encompasses any risky or unsafe driving behavior, and exponentially increases with alcohol consumption and/or operator inattention and inexperience.
- Weather Conditions — Inclement weather such as strong winds, heavy rain, or sudden lightning is a hazard in itself but can also cause swells and large waves that threaten to capsize boats.
- Hydration —It’s easy to become dehydrated when out in the sun and the elements — and paradoxically, when surrounded by water. Remember to always have enough water on board and hydrate, hydrate, hydrate!
Many crashes can be avoided by knowing the risks and following safety guidelines. With precautions in place, you’ll have peace of mind to enjoy those beautiful summer days and sunsets on the water.
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