Alcohol Leading Contributor in U.S. Recreational Boating Accidents

file photo
file photo

Published Aug 27, 2019 6:48 PM by The Maritime Executive

The U.S. Coast Guard released its 2018 Recreational Boating Statistics Report on Tuesday, revealing that there were 633 boating fatalities nationwide in 2018, a 3.8 percent decrease from 2017.

From 2017 to 2018, overall recreational boating injuries also decreased 4.5 percent (2,629 to 2,511), and the total number of accidents decreased 3.4 percent (4,291 to 4,145). 

Alcohol continued to be the leading known contributing factor in fatal boating accidents in 2018, accounting for 100 deaths (19 percent) of total fatalities.

“While these decreases are encouraging, there are still too many deaths and injuries that could be avoided through the use of life jackets and eliminating alcohol consumption while operating a boat,” said Captain Scott Johnson, chief of the Office of Auxiliary and Boating Safety at Coast Guard Headquarters. “It is heartbreaking to realize that more than 100 people could still be alive today had alcohol use been curbed.” 

Half of a boating party perished in Alabama in July 2018 when an inebriated passenger bumped into the operator, who had also been drinking, which caused the operator to swerve and crash into a bridge piling at about 25 mph. Two people were killed, including one who was struck by the boat’s propeller. The operator had a blood alcohol concentration level of 0.15, nearly twice the state’s legal limit of 0.08.

“This was just one tragedy that could have been prevented by removing alcohol from the day’s activities,” Johnson said. “Anyone who’s spent long periods of time out on the water knows that alcohol consumption, when combined with fatigue from sun and wind exposure, will severely hinder a person’s ability to make good decisions and maintain awareness of their surroundings.”

The report also shows that in 2018:

•     The fatality rate was 5.3 deaths per 100,000 registered recreational vessels, which tied as the third lowest rate in the program’s history. This rate represents a 3.6 percent decrease from last year’s fatality rate of 5.5 deaths per 100,000 registered recreational vessels.
•     Property damage totaled about $46 million.
•     Operator inattention, improper lookout, operator inexperience, machinery failure, and excessive speed ranked as the top five primary contributing factors in accidents.

Where the cause of death was known, 77 percent of fatal boating accident victims drowned. Of those drowning victims with reported life jacket usage, 84 percent were not wearing a life jacket. A number of deaths involved inflatable life jackets that had expired cartridges or life jackets that were not buckled, thus making them ineffective as lifesaving devices.

Where boating instruction was known, 74 percent of deaths occurred on vessels where the operator had not received boating safety instruction. 

The most common vessel types involved in reported accidents were open motorboats, personal watercraft and cabin motorboats. Where vessel type was known, the vessel types with the highest percentage of deaths were open motorboats (50 percent), kayaks (13.5 percent) and canoes (seven percent). 

The statistics are available here.