Every May, throughout the U.S., National Safe Boating is celebrated with events promoting boating and water safety. Marco Island recognized this recently with a proclamation while members of local boating groups appeared at the council chambers wearing life jackets promoting the Wear It campaign.
Efforts appear to be working, and boating is becoming safer. Yet, deeper investigation still raises concerns. In 1997 there were 8,407 boating accidents reported with 821 deaths and 4,555 injuries. In 2016, after 19 years of increased boating safety awareness and education, the number of boating accidents had dropped to 4,463, an almost 50% drop. But, the number of deaths was 701, a rate of one death for every 6.3 accidents. In 1997 the rate was 1 in 10. Injuries were also slightly more likely to result in 2016 accidents when compared to 1997. We can celebrate fewer accidents but concern is raised for the serious results of these accidents.
There are almost 12 million recreational vessels registered in the U.S., with over 90% of these vessels mechanically propelled (the others being canoes, kayaks, rowboats, etc.). The boats most involved in accidents are powered with between 76 to 150 HP, are of fiberglass construction and are between 16 to 26 feet in length. The majority of these boats are older, built in 2003 and prior. Boating accidents are further defined by the activity engaged in at the time of the incident. The very large majority of accidents (3,751) occurred while boaters were engaged in “relaxation” activities – boating to relax and enjoy the water and nature. Other top activities engaged in before the accident are fishing (709) and towed water sports (416). These 2016 statistics attribute 73% of the 701 deaths to drowning. Most of the deaths occur with open motor boats.
The primary factors contributing to and causing boating accidents are: improper lookout, operator inattention, operator inexperience, excessive speed, alcohol use, and restricted vision.
The U.S. Coast Guard divides the contributing categories into five larger categories: the operation of the vessel; loading of passengers and gear; failure of the vessel or vessel equipment; environment (congested waters, force of wake, weather, etc.); and miscellaneous.
The operation of the vessel is the primary cause of most accidents and boating deaths. Machines may become easier and safer, but the operators still cause the accidents.
While nothing can absolutely guarantee a safe boating experience, education and training can greatly improve the skills, knowledge and confidence of boaters. Boaters need to be completely familiar with the boat’s capabilities and its safety equipment. Boaters must navigate within marked channels and must stay alert when approaching other boats and objects in the water (navigation buoys, marine traps, mooring fields, etc). No matter how much experience it is always good to brush up on the latest boating rules and technology. And, importantly, the boater needs to keep a close eye on conditions at hand and take action to make sure the crew and the boat get home without accident or injury.
The United States Power Squadron, now becoming known as America’s Boating Club, is America’s largest non-profit boating organization. Marco Island Sail & Power Squadron (MISP) offers a wide array of boating courses and free vessel safety checks. Members enjoy group boating trips, monthly dinners with informational speakers, and a monthly “Captain’s” social hour at CJ’s. For more information visit Marcoislandsailandpowersquadron.org.