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Safe at Sea: 2019 proves safer for boaters

By Staff | Jun 23, 2020


The U.S. Coast Guard has been delegated the responsibility to collect, analyze and annually publish statistical information regarding recreational boating. The year 2019 marked the 61st annual statistical reporting on recreational boating accidents and state vessel registration.

While the document is over 80 pages in length and contains numerous statistical charts, the purpose of this column is to provide a “user-friendly” summary of its contents. To read the full 2019 report, visit “http://www.uscgboating.org/library/accident-statistics/Recreational-Boating-Statistics-2019.pdf”>www.uscgboating.org/library/accident-statistics/Recreational-Boating-Statistics-2019.pdf.

As with all statistics, the information is both positive and negative. Undoubtedly, the most positive statistic is that from 2018 to 2019 there was a 1.9 percent decrease in fatalities in recreational vessels. The negative aspect of the statistic is that the number of boating accidents actually increased by 0.6 percent. However, the overwhelming positive factor is that the number deaths decreased 3.2 percent, and the number of injuries dropped by 1.9 percent.

In some areas, the information provided by the U.S. Coast Guard report did not reflect change. Specifically where cause of death was known, 79 percent of fatal boating accident victims drowned. Eighty-six percent of these fatalities were not wearing a life jacket. This continues to be a persistent, yet avoidable characteristic of recreational boaters. Interestingly, eight out of every 10 boaters who drowned were using vessels less than 21 feet in length.

Also avoidable is this piece of data: Alcohol use is the leading known contributing factor (23 percent), where the primary cause was known. Operator inattention, improper lookout, operator inexperience and excessive speed also rank as the top primary contributing factors in accidents.

Where instruction was known, 70 percent of deaths occurred on boats where the operator did not receive boating safety instruction; whereas, only 20 percent of deaths occurred on vessels where the operator had received a nationally-approved boating safety education certificate.

Florida continues to report more boating accidents than any other state – 679 – as well as the largest number of fatal accidents (55), which resulted in 62 deaths and 421 injured persons. Nationally, the data on the cost of damages is astounding: $55,320,226.25. Florida’s share of this was $9,232,015.99.

Once again, boaters are reminded:

– Wear your life jackets.

– Boating and drinking are a potentially fatal mix.

– Always be alert to what surrounds you and drive accordingly.

Pat Schmidt is a member of America’s Boating Club of Sanibel-Captiva. For more about the chapter and its boating education courses, visit www.sancapboating.club or contact education@sanibelcaptivasps.org or 612-987-2125.