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The key to preventing boating accidents -- knowing the causes

The Fourth of July is peak time for boating – and prime time for boating accidents. With so many people on the water, including many inexperienced boaters, the risk of serious injury or death goes way up.

Knowing the primary causes of boat accidents may help you and your friends and family stay safe as you celebrate the holiday and enjoy the summer.


July is the deadliest month for boating accidents

The U.S. Coast Guard reports that there were more than 1,000 boating accidents in July 2017, resulting in 121 deaths and thousands of injuries. The USCG tracks fatal and non-fatal accidents involving speedboats, fishing boats and personal watercraft, as well as sailboats, canoes, kayaks and paddleboards.

Throughout the year, there were more than 4,200 boating accidents in the U.S. in 2017, including more than 650 fatalities.

You may be surprised at the primary causes of boat accidents

The Coast Guard tracks primary and contributing factors that result in boating accidents:

  • Operator inattention is the No. 1 cause of accidents and fatalities. The driver should be looking forward and scanning for other vessels, not talking to passengers, looking behind or baiting hooks.

  • Operator inexperience is the second biggest factor. New owners or people who rent boats and Jet-Skis are more likely to lose control or miscalculate in a close encounter.

  • Improper lookout – The driver and/or a designated passenger should watch for other boats and swimmers. There should also be a spotter at the rear when towing skiers or inner tubes so that the driver is not distracted.

  • Navigation violations are a leading cause of accidents. Reckless or inexperienced operators who don’t know the “rules of the road” often pass too close, pass on the wrong side, cut in front of other vessels, or ram into fixed objects.

  • Alcohol impairment is not the top overall cause of accidents, but it is the No. 1 factor in boating fatalities. An intoxicated operator has diminished judgment, vision and reflexes.

  • Excessive speed is the root cause of many collisions and crash injuries. Operators who are driving too fast fail to see other vessels or do not have enough time to avoid a crash.

  • Engine failure causes many accidents (but few deaths).

  • Other common causes of boating injuries and deaths include hazardous weather and big waves or boat wakes.

Always bring a lifejacket. And actually wear it.

Some people do die from their serious injuries, but usually the collision itself is not fatal. Drowning is the top cause of death in boat-related accidents, when people fall overboard or are thrown overboard in the collision.

Sadly, hundreds of victims die each year because they were not wearing lifejackets. A life vest or flotation device does not help you if it’s still on the boat and you are in the water. A lifejacket can keep an unconscious person or non-swimmer afloat long enough to be rescued.

Have fun but be safe

Watch your speed and steer clear of other boaters that are speeding or reckless. Alcohol can be part of the fun, but it is illegal for the operator to partake. Watch the weather and avoid rough water. And make sure every person aboard is wearing a lifejacket, even if you are only fishing or going for a slow cruise.


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