National Safe Boating Week has come and gone. We should not let our awareness of safe boating practices slip away, though. Boating accidents happen year around. Now more boats than ever are on the water, many of them with operators who are relatively new to boating.
Recreational boating is very popular. Last year 12,173,935 boats were registered by the states. That is 2.1% fewer than the previous year, perhaps due to high fuel prices.
The most common type of boating accident is collision with another recreational vessel. The next four types of boating accidents, in order of occurrence, are flooding or swamping, collision with a fixed object, skier mishap and falls overboard.
According to U.S. Coast Guard figures, the percentage of accidents that are fatal during July, 10%, is lower than any other month. But that can be misleading. July can be a relatively dangerous month for boating because there are so many boats on the water. Last July there were 1,215 boating accidents, far surpassing other months, and 125 were fatal accidents.
June was second in boat total accidents and fatalities, followed in both categories by August.
However, the highest percentage of accidents that resulted in fatalities were October, November, December, January, February, Match and April. All rates were at least 20%, with December, with 23%, being worst in this regard. But demonstrating how statistics can be misleading, the 22 fatalities during December was fewer than all other months.
During 2011 there were 758 boating accident fatalities, a 12.8% increase from the previous year. That is the highest number since 1998.
The fatality rate was 6.2 per 100,000 registered boats.
In these statistics it is shown that wearing a life Jacket is the most important thing a boater can do to ensure safety on the water.
Of those 758 fatalities, 533 fatalities, 70%, resulted from drowning. One of the most frightening statistics is that 84% of those drowning fatalities were not wearing life jackets. Only 1.5 of every 10 drowning fatalities were wearing life jackets.
How many of those deaths would have been prevented if the victims had been wearing a life jacket can not be determined for certain, however it seems likely that most would have survived.
Why do so many boaters not wear life jackets?
Typical reasons are that life jackets are cumbersome, and that they are very hot on hot summer days especially.
But today these problems can easily be avoided by wearing inflatable life jackets. These are generally more expensive than older style life jackets. But what cost would you put on your life? I expect that everyone would pay $100 to save their life. That, or slightly more, is about the cost for inflatable life jackets.
One reason that a lower percentage of boating accidents result in fatalities during July is that the water is relatively warm. During the cold water months, hypothermia and cold water shock cause fatalities.
Another very important factor in the boating accident rate is safe boating education. Only 11% of deaths during 2011 happened in boats in which the operators had received safe boating education.
Safe boating education is offered by the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, the U.S. Power Squadron and others. Safe boating courses can be taken on-line.
Does boat size matter?
Yes it does. Eight out of 10 boaters who drowned were in boats less than 21 feet in length.
The most common types of boats involved in reported boating accidents were open motorboats, 47%, personal watercraft, 19%, and cabin motorboats, 14%. Canoes and kayaks come fifth, but rank second in fatalities.
Not at all surprising, alcohol is a major negative factor in boating accidents. Alcohol is the leading contributing factor in fatal boat accidents.
The leading factor contributing to all boating accidents is operator inattention, followed by improper lookout, operator inexperience, excessive speed, then just before alcohol, machinery failure.
Some other things to be on alert for are hazardous water, weather, rules of the road, and waves or wakes.