Federal law requires owners of recreational boats to register them. In 2014 there were 11.8 million registered recreational boats, down from 12.0 million in 2013. An accident occurring on a recreational boat must be reported to the U.S. Coast Guard if a person dies or is injured and requires medical treatment beyond first aid; if damage to the boat or other property exceeds $2,000; and if the boat is lost or if a person disappears from the boat. Out of the 4,064 accidents reported in 2014, 581 occurred in Florida, accounting for 14.3 percent of all incidents. Other states with a high number of boating accidents were California (379), New York (175), Texas (167) and Missouri (142).
Boating fatalities increased by 8.9 percent to 610 in 2014 from 560 in 2013. The rate per 100,000 registered recreational boats was 5.2, up from 4.7 in 2013. The number of accidents was mostly unchanged in 2014, at 4,064 compared with 4,062 in 2013. Injuries rose to 2,678 in 2014 from 2,620 in 2013, or 2.2 percent. Property damage totaled $39 million in 2013, about the same as in 2013.
The U.S. Coast Guard says that alcohol, combined with typical boating conditions such as motion, vibration, engine noise, sun, wind and spray can impair a person’s abilities much faster than alcohol consumption on land. Boat operators with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) above 0.10 percent are estimated to be more than 10 times more likely to be killed in a boating accident than boat operators with zero BAC. Alcohol was the largest primary human factor in boating deaths in 2014 (21 percent of boating fatalities), causing 108 deaths and 248 injuries in 277 accidents. Other primary contributing factors were operator inexperience, resulting in 44 deaths; and operator inattention, accounting for 38 deaths.
There are thousands of recreational boating accidents per year. Contributing factors to these accidents include traveling too fast for water or weather conditions, driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, failing to follow boating rules and regulations, carelessness and inexperience.
To prevent boating accidents, we offer these safety suggestions:
Care and protection of vessel
- Check weather forecasts before heading out.
- Let someone know where you’re going and when you expect to return.
- Check engine, fuel, electrical and steering systems, especially for exhaust-system leaks.
- Carry one or more fire extinguishers, matched to the size and type of boat. Keep them readily accessible and in condition for immediate use.
- Equip the vessel with required navigation lights and with a whistle, horn or bell.
- Consider additional safety devices, such as a paddle or oars, a first-aid kit, a supply of fresh water, a tool kit and spare parts, a flashlight, flares and a radio.
Care and protection of crew and guests
- Make sure that every person on board the boat wears a life-jacket.
- Know and obey marine traffic laws, the “Rules-of-the-Road.” Learn various distress signals.
- Keep an alert lookout for other watercraft, swimmers, floating debris and shallow waters.
- Pay attention to loading. Don’t overload; distribute the load evenly; don’t stand up or shift weight suddenly in a small boat; and don’t permit riding on the bow, seatbacks or gunwales.
- Don’t operate a boat while under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
Skippers can obtain free advice and boating-safety courses from the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary. Upon request, the auxiliary will conduct a Courtesy Marine Examination (CME) on your boat, checking electrical and safety equipment and fuel hoses. Boats meeting safety standards are awarded the CME decal “Seal of Safety.”