No life jackets top cause in recreational boat mishaps

BRYAN EATON/Staff photoBoaters enjoy the Merrimack River off Plum Island Point.

The number of U.S. recreational boating accidents and fatalities decreased slightly in 2018, but the factors leading to boating casualties and deaths remains disturbingly the same.

The Coast Guard recently released its report on 2018 recreational boating statistics that indicate the factors involved in accidents, casualties and fatalities are lack of life jackets, operator inattention and the use of alcohol.

According to the Coast Guard’s 2018 statistics, drowning was the cause of 77 percent of the 633 boating deaths in 2018 where the cause of death was identified. That represents a 1 percent increase from 2017.

More alarming, 84 percent of those who drowned in 2018 recreational boating accidents were not wearing a life jacket. That is roughly the same as the 84.5 percent of drownings in 2017.

Operator inattention also was a prime cause, with 74 percent of the deaths occurring on vessels where the operator did not receive formal boating safety instruction.

And then there is alcohol.

The use of alcohol was identified as the primary contributing factor in fatal boating accidents where the primary cause was known. It is listed as the leading factor in 19 percent of all recreational boating deaths.

The 83-page report said the Coast Guard counted 4,145 accidents in 2018 that resulted in the 633 deaths, 2,511 injuries and $46 million in property damage.

Those break down to a fatality rate of 5.3 deaths per 100,000 registered recreational vessels, which is a 3.6 percent decline from the 2017 rate of 5.5 deaths per 100,000.

Massachusetts tied with Minnesota at 19th with 77 total accidents that produced $767,403 in property damage. The Bay State ranked 27th, tied with Idaho, in fatalities, with 10.

The report also listed other contributing factors in recreational boating accidents. The top five are improper lookout, operator inexperience, machinery failure, excessive speed and the aforementioned operator inattention.

Other interesting nuggets contained in the report:

Eight out of every 10 boaters that drowned were using vessels shorter than 21 feet in length.

The most common vessel types involved in reported accidents were open motor boats (46 percent), personal watercraft (19 percent) and cabin motorboats (15 percent).

The vessel types with the highest percentage of deaths were open motorboats (50 percent), kayaks (13.5 percent) and canoes (7 percent).

The second-leading cause of death was trauma. The Coast Guard said there were 177 accidents in which at least one person was struck by a propeller, resulting in 25 deaths and 177 injuries.

January is the most fatal month, accounting for more than 27 percent of accidents that resulted in 26 deaths.

The most dangerous known time to be on the water is between 2:31 a.m. and 4:30 a.m., according to the report.



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