The U.S. Coast Guard released its 2017 Recreational Boating Statistics on Tuesday, revealing that boating fatalities nationwide last year totalled 658, a 6.1 percent decrease from 2016.
From 2016 to 2017, recreational boating injuries also decreased 9.4 percent from 2,903 to 2,629, and the total number of accidents decreased 3.9 percent from 4,463 to 4,291. However, the report also shows it was the second highest number of fatalities on record in the last five years.
“Although these lower numbers are encouraging, I ask those who boat to continue to do so responsibly, especially by donning a life jacket,” said Capt. Scott Johnson, chief of the Office of Auxiliary and Boating Safety at Coast Guard Headquarters. “Wearing a life jacket is the single-most important thing you can do to save your life or the life of someone you care about.”
Johnson cites a heart-wrenching case where an 18-year-old victim who had been preparing to wakeboard unexpectedly fell overboard with a life jacket in his hand. He never resurfaced.
“When you need a life jacket, you need it on, not in your hand or stowed away out of reach on your boat,” Johnson said. “This tragedy was entirely preventable.”
The report also shows that in 2017:
• The fatality rate was 5.5 deaths per 100,000 registered recreational vessels. This rate represents a 6.8 percent decrease from last year’s fatality rate of 5.9 deaths per 100,000 registered recreational vessels.
• Property damage totaled approximately $46 million.
• Alcohol continued to be the leading known contributing factor in fatal boating accidents.
• Operator inattention, improper lookout, operator inexperience, machinery failure, and alcohol use rank as the top five primary contributing factors in accidents.
Johnson warns boaters of the impacts of alcohol use, noting a case in Connecticut where two inebriated people onboard a 32-foot boat were killed when their boat crashed into a breakwater.
“Alcohol was the leading factor in 19 percent of deaths,” Johnson said. “It is also a completely preventable factor – never boat under the influence.”
Where the cause of death was known, 76 percent of fatal boating accident victims drowned. Of those drowning victims with reported life jacket usage, 84.5 percent were not wearing a life jacket.