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Friday, July 19, 2024

Recreational Boating Accidents and Deaths Decrease as Coast Guard Stresses Year-Round Preparedness

Recreational boating accidents decreased 9 percent in 2022 compared to the previous year while the number of deaths decreased 3.3 percent and the number of injuries decreased 15.9 percent, according to the U.S. Coast Guard’s annual Recreational Boating Statistics report.

Comparatively, deaths from boating accidents rose more than 25 percent and boating injuries spiked by nearly the same rate in 2020, with 26 percent more overall incidents than in 2019 as more people took to the water during pandemic shutdowns.

The report is a sober reminder about the dangers that boating enthusiasts can face on the water and the importance of USCG education and enforcement as the summer recreation season heats up. It also highlights progress in boating safety efforts made since the Federal Boat Safety Act was first passed in 1971 — when the fatality rate was 20.6 deaths per 100,000 registered recreational vessels.

That includes trying to reduce the number of boaters operating vessels under the influence of drugs or alcohol in conjunction with partner agencies, especially during busy summer weekends but also a problem year-round as statistics showed the highest percentage of fatal accidents in December. The USCG report said alcohol was the key factor behind 16 percent of boating deaths last year, the leading known contributing factor.

“In calendar year 2022, the Coast Guard counted 4,040 accidents that involved 636 deaths, 2,222 injuries and approximately $63 million dollars of damage to property as a result of recreational boating accidents,” the report said.

The fatality rate was 5.4 deaths per 100,000 registered recreational vessels, down from the 2021 fatality rate of 5.5 deaths.

“Where cause of death was known, 75% of fatal boating accident victims drowned. Of those drowning victims with reported life jacket usage, 85% were not wearing a life jacket,” the report said. “Where length was known, 3 of every 4 boaters who drowned were using vessels less than 21 feet in length… Only 14% percent of deaths occurred on vessels where the operator had received a nationally-approved boating safety education certificate.”

The most fatalities — 47 percent — happened on open motorboats, followed by kayaks, personal watercraft, and pontoons. The Coast Guard noted 173 accidents — resulting in 41 deaths and 182 injuries — in which at least one person was struck by a propeller. The report doesn’t count incidents in which the boating operation was not a factor in the person’s death, such as fights aboard boats, self-inflicted wounds, or diving off an anchored vessel.

The top contributing factors by number of accidents were operator inattention, operator inexperience, improper lookout, excessive speed, machinery failure, weather, alcohol, navigation rules violation, hazardous waters, and the force of a wave or wake. The most accidents, deaths, and injuries occurred on lakes, ponds, or reservoirs, followed by rivers or bayous.

The leading primary events in accidents were collision with another boat, collision with a fixed object, flooding or swamping, grounding, falls overboard, and capsizing.

“Most incidents occur in benign conditions — calm waters, light wind, and good visibility — under which you may least expect to end up in the water, which is why it is critical to wear a life jacket and engine cut-off switch at all times as they are designed to save your life,” said Captain Troy Glendye, chief of the Coast Guard’s Office of Auxiliary and Boating Safety.

The office’s National Recreational Boating Safety Program Strategic Plan for 2022-2026 estimates that the program has saved an estimated 75,000 lives as the number of recreational vessels has more than doubled over the past five decades.

“We have made great progress with the availability of new types of life jackets, engine cut-off switches, safer vessels, and a wide variety of prevention measures from the many members of the recreational boating safety community in the U.S. and across the globe,” the strategic plan states. “…The mission of the National RBS Program is to ensure the public has a safe, secure, and enjoyable recreational boating experience by implementing programs designed to minimize the loss of life, personal injury, and property damage while cooperating with environmental and national security efforts.”

The strategic plan aims to positively influence recreational boater behavior, positively influence recreational boat and accessory manufacturers, and leverage recreational boating data.

“The RBS Program has great data analysis capabilities and continues to build partnerships with the States, industry, nonprofit organizations, and other Coast Guard offices so we can leverage data to target needed actions and reduce risk,” the plan says. “Incident reporting remains a critical element of the RBS Program, and it will continue to be a focus of this Strategic Plan.”

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