What is the Cause of Most Boating Accidents? (Statistics)

You probably take loads of time to prepare all of the nitty gritty details of every boat trip you take. From the food, to the itinerary, and everything in between, any self-respecting boater sees to it that all the bases are covered to maximize fun and enjoyment. But what about safety?

All too often, boat owners focus too much on the pleasure that they forget about preparing for potential accidents and hazards. So it’s really no surprise how so many people meet accidents out on the water each year, some even causing fatality. So what is the cause of most boating accidents? Find out here.

The Most Common Causes of Boating Accidents

Before anything else, it’s important to remember that every state has its own laws to help ensure boater safety. These regulations are set in place to guide boaters and their passengers to keep everyone safe out on the water. But even law-abiding recreational boaters can meet accidents - that’s just how life works.

There are a variety of causes for boating accidents, and these include:

Operator Inattention

According to the US Coast Guard, the most prevalent reason for accidents on recreational watercrafts is operator inattention. This means failing to perceive threats and obstructions in the water and thus failing to maneuver out of its way.

Operator Inexperience

Sure, you might have taken a boating safety course and a training course to learn how to operate your vessel. But once you finish the course, you still won’t have enough experience to guarantee seamless operation every time.

First time boat operators are typically the most prone to accidents for lack of experience. According to the USCG, 70% of fatal boating accidents in 2019 occurred on boats operated by individuals with insufficient boating safety instruction.

Excessive Speed

There’s nothing quite like the feeling of having the breeze blowing through your hair as you hop across the waves. But too much throttle could put you in harm’s way. In 2019, 358 accidents (22 of which proved to be fatal) were caused by speeding.

Statistics also show that most of those involved in these accidents were fully aware of the limits, which indicates that carelessness might be the main issue.

Alcohol Use

Alcohol use is the 5th leading cause of boating accidents. Since most recreational boat users typically take their vessel out to have fun and enjoy the company of family and friends, alcohol becomes an inevitable part of the mix, leading to sometimes fatal consequences.

Statistics have found that alcohol use is the most common cause of boating related deaths, especially because intoxicated victims who fall overboard might not be fully capable of perceiving or responding to the immediate threat of drowning.

Machinery Failure

Despite causing 274 accidents in 2019, machinery failure is an unlikely cause of fatality on a boat. Of course, it does turn out to be the most expensive in terms of damages. This highlights the importance of proper and routine maintenance to keep your vessel in water-worthy condition.

Navigation Rules Violation

There are specific rules in place to help boats steer clear of one another when they’re out on the water. Violating these rules leads to about 235 accidents annually, with roughly 10% of those instances leading to fatality.

Another thing to remember is that although you might be confident in your knowledge and skill, others might not be. So operating recklessly because you feel confident in your own capabilities can still result to injury and even death.

Weather and Hazardous Water

Strong winds, high waves, and rain can make it much harder to navigate the water and make it home in one piece. Although low on the list of causes at the number 8 slot, weather-caused accidents can prove fatal, with close to 20% of incidents causing fatality.

This is also because aside from being tossed overboard, individuals also have to face the dangers of an enraged open ocean making it harder to perform a rescue.

Force of Wave

Sometimes, you don’t really need bad weather to experience strong waves. According to the numbers, strong waves cause about 140 accidents each year.

This is also why it’s important to look into water conditions before heading underway, and to make sure you have enough knowledge on steering a boat in rough waters should the information come in handy.

Tips and Advice to Prevent Boating Accidents

how to avoid boat accidents

Knowing the numbers and realizing how common boating accidents can feel a lot like a wake-up call. So if you’ve been planning your boating trips with little regard for safety, then it might be time to change the way you prepare. After all, no one wants to be just another statistic.

Here’s what you can do to prevent boating accidents:

Pay Attention!

Pretty simple, isn’t it? Although it might seem like a no-brainer, it’s worth remembering that operator inattention is the leading cause of boating accidents, causing over 500 accidents and 36 deaths each year. So simply paying attention could significantly improve your chances of enjoying a seamless trip.

While the company of your family and friends might have you talking away while you’re at the helm, don’t forget your responsibility as captain. Better yet, you can implement a rule on board your boat that whenever you’re underway, guests should avoid doing anything that could distract you from operating the boat.

Brush Up on Your Boating Skills

It doesn’t matter if you’ve been boating for a month or a year - there’s nothing to lose by brushing up on your boating skills. Take your boat for short trips just to re-familiarize yourself with the different instruments and features on board. It also doesn’t hurt to retake a boating safety course if you feel like there’s stuff you don’t remember.

Designate a Watcher

If you don’t already do it, designate someone to serve as your eyes and ears while you’re operating the boat. Having a second person to be on the lookout for potential danger can help improve your chances of averting the hazards.

It also helps to have someone who knows how to operate the boat themselves in case you’re unable to do the job yourself.

Don’t Get Too Confident

Just like driving a car, operating a boat can feel like second nature when you do it long enough. But that doesn’t give you a license to break the rules and put others in danger. Always stay within the speed limit and don’t get too confident in your skills. Remember that some of the other boats around you might not be as skilled or experienced as you are.

It’s also worth emphasizing that different localities implement different rules when it comes to speed limits. Always check the rules first before you take your boat out so you can operate your vessel within the limits set forth by the local authorities.

Avoid Alcohol

Not-so-fun-fact: alcohol use is the leading cause of fatalities for boat related accidents. Causing a whopping 113 deaths every year, alcohol use spells danger not just for you, but for everyone on board. An intoxicated boat operator puts all of their passengers in harm’s way.

But what many don’t realize is that intoxicated passengers also put themselves at risk. Getting tossed overboard when you’re not entirely sober increases the risk of drowning. So do yourself a favor and skip the booze while you’re on board.

Have Your Boat Routinely Checked

There’s a reason why it’s called ‘routine’ maintenance. Your boat might be working fine now, but you can never anticipate when it might just cave in to insidious damage.

Having it checked routinely gives you a better understanding of how well it works now, and provides you an opportunity to get ahead of potential damages before its too late.

Check the Weather

Before anything else, make sure you check the weather forecast. Weather conditions are responsible for roughly 180 accidents annually, and these could be easily avoided by simply checking the weather before heading out.

Unfortunately, bad weather conditions also make it almost impossible to retrieve someone from the water, which is why these accidents could potentially lead to death.

Wear Your Life Jacket

Statistics show that not wearing a life jacket or a personal flotation device is the leading cause of fatality when it comes to boating accidents. Imagine an emergency situation that calls for quick thinking and response time - will you actually have time to throw on a PFD? Probably not.

Similarly, it becomes incredibly difficult to wear a personal flotation device when you’re already in the water. That’s why it pays to make it a habit to wear a PFD at all times when you’re onboard your boat. These safety devices can also save you if you’re unconscious, which makes them extra helpful in the face of an accident.

Safety First!

What is the cause of most boating accidents? Well, the answer is operator inattention, but it isn’t the only reason why they happen. Understanding the potential roots of accidents, injuries, and death out on the water should help you better prepare for the risks. Follow the rules, keep your eyes on the water, and make sure all of your passengers strap on their PFD’s to minimize the chance of accidents and to truly enjoy the water and waves.