As warmer weather approaches and self-quarantine and physical distancing restrictions are eased, public behavior will begin – albeit slowly – to revert to that of  pre-pandemic life. Through most of the summer, continued aversion to crowds will be challenged against the human need for greater social interaction.  One summertime activity that is poised to see a spike in participation is recreational boating, which allows for smaller, isolated groups to enjoy a quintessential summer pastime.

After surviving months of self-isolation and the threat of a deadly virus, it may be easy to underestimate the dangers associated with recreational boating. However, with projections for summertime vacationers to pursue activities more conducive to physical distancing from large crowds this year, recreational boating is expected to see a surge in activity. Unfortunately, more congested waters combined with less experienced boaters will bring a different set of dangers. To avoid tragedy during the summer months, it is essential that boaters remain diligent and understand the dangers associated with recreational boating.

By the numbers

Every year, vacationers swarm to beaches, lakes and rivers for fun and sun on the water. Tragically, according to the U.S. Coast Guard, fatalities and serious accidents have occurred at a consistently alarming rate since 2002. The fatality rate for each accident has ranged from 13% to 17% over the period, while injuries that require medical treatment beyond first aid have ranged between 61% and 71% for each accident. Comparatively speaking, approximately 1% of car accidents in the US resulted in a fatality, while approximately 50% resulted in injury, both of which are much lower than boating accidents.

Why so deadly?

The most common vessel types involved in reported accidents were open motorboats, followed by personal watercraft and motorboats with interiors. Motorboats also had the highest percentage of deaths, with approximately 1 out of every 2 deaths involving the vessel. Most recreational boating accidents are, however, wholly avoidable. The best way to avoid being a victim is to understand the most common causes for accidents.

According to a 2018 study from the U.S. Coast Guard, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and the Office of Auxiliary and Boating Safety, the top seven contributing factors to boating accidents are:

  1. Operator inattention – operating a boat in a leisurely setting, frequently distanced from other boats,  lends itself to a lack of focus by a boat operator as well as distraction. Best practice is to limit conversation with the operator of the boat and for the boat operator to focus on defensive driving to account for others.
  2. Improper lookout – inexperienced boaters seldom realize  the need for a designated lookout who watches for less obvious water hazards. Whether  it be swimmers, shallow areas, debris or wakes from other boats, there are a number of factors that could lead to an accident; it is best practice to have a co-operator for the safety of all on and off-board.
  3. Operator inexperience – most states require a license or training in order to operate  boats of a certain size. These certifications are often done online and can be little more than a formality, especially for semi-seasonal recreational operators. A lack of hands-on instruction seriously diminishes the value of a license, and  mock preparation for emergency situations is practically non-existent. Boat operators should not assume that achieving a state certification is sufficient to safely operate a boat. Every effort should be made to obtain a third-party facilitator to provide an in-depth course that helps boaters know all of the rules and regulations for safe boating and gives them hands-on experience.
  4. Machinery failure – for recreational boaters who rent as needed, performing the proper pre-operational checks is seldom done. Moreover, even fewer boaters have a safe working knowledge of the mechanics of the vehicle. The ability to do a safety check and knowledge of the basics of a boats motor should be a minimum threshold that boaters should employ.
  5. Excessive speed – just as operating at a higher speed on the roads can make car accidents more likely, the same applies to boating. For operators in both vehicles, there will be less time to react to hazards or dangers. Adhering to speed control, using common sense when the water is crowded, and minding wakes are basic behaviors that are sure to mitigate dangerous conditions.?
  6. Alcohol use – states typically hold boaters to the same legal blood limits as those of automobiles. Unfortunately the nature of boating, which is recreational, lends to the usage of alcohol more frequently than automobile drivers. Combine inexperienced operators, unfamiliar surroundings, and fewer law enforcement officers patrolling and the environment is conducive to more accidents. Always choose a designated driver who agrees to avoid alcohol until boating activities are done for the day.
  7. Force from wakes / waves – wakes, which are the waves that spread behind a boat as it moves forward, can be extremely dangerous and are frequently the cause of  boating injuries. As more boaters operate on bodies of water, wakes become more frequent and more powerful. Inexperienced boaters often don’t recognize the dangers they cause as they speed through the water, nor do they appreciate the power of wakes from other boats. Maintaining slower speeds, avoiding crowded areas, having respect for other boaters, and defensive operating can minimize the risks of injury.

Staying safe

The statistics clearly demonstrate the significant dangers associated with boating. As summer approaches, recognizing the most common contributing factors for boating accidents is the first step to staying safe, followed by well-understood and acceptable courses of actions to mitigate those risks.

If, however, you or someone you know is injured in a boating accident, it is important to seek legal counsel to discuss the facts of the case. Should the accident be the result of someone else’s negligence, recklessness, or wrongdoing, you may be  entitled to compensation for medical care expenses, loss of wages, pain and suffering, physical impairment, as well as other damages depending on the extent of the injuries.. An attorney who is experienced in representing accident victims and their families will be able to explain all your legal rights and options. If you have been injured in a boating accident, contact The Callahan Law Firm for a free case consultation.