Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Recreational Boating Accident Statistics and Trends

Excerpt from U.S. Coast Guard Proceedings of the Marine Safety & Security Council magazine by Ms. Susan Tomczuk, U.S. Coast Guard Office of Auxiliary and Boating Safety and Dr. L. Daniel Maxim, U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary

Fatality rates for recreational boating accidents have historically been expressed as fatalities per 100,000 registered boats. In 2008, the total number of recreational boating fatalities in the United States was 709, a fatality rate of 5.6 deaths per 100,000 registered boats. This fatality rate has declined over the years—more than 83 percent since these statistics were first analyzed.

This is gratifying, but from 1990 on, the average annual decrease in fatality rate was only 2.5 percent per year (denoted by the dashed red line in the chart), and annual fatalities appear to be “stuck” at around 700.

Most Boating Fatalities Are Drownings
Drowning accounts for the majority of fatalities, particularly on smaller boats. Personal watercraft accidents are more likely to result in blunt trauma injuries (mostly due to speed). PWCs have fewer drownings since most states require operators and passengers to wear life jackets.

Life Jackets Save Lives
Most boating drownings are sudden, unexpected events, typically resulting from capsizing or falls overboard, which provide little time to don a life jacket.

Life jacket wear rates are high for some boaters (typically skiers, personal watercraft occupants, and children), largely because they are legally required. But according to Coast Guard-sponsored life jacket wear rate observation studies, life jacket wear rates are not high for other boaters.

Alcohol Kills
One particularly telling boating accident report data field is the “primary contributing factor” for each reported accident. Each is plotted in the chart as a point showing the number of fatalities and number of accidents. For alcohol/drugs those numbers are 126 and 281.

Only factors resulting in at least 200 accidents or 25 fatalities are shown, the dashed lines show contours of constant ratios of fatalities per accident. The next figure illustrates contributing factors for casualties.

Alcohol/drugs remain important, but other factors increase in relative importance, such as inattention, proper lookout, speed, careless or reckless behavior, and passenger/skier behavior.

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