Boating is one the most exhilarating and entertaining ways to spend a day, and activities like swimming, tubing, and skiing enhance the boating experience even more. Personal water craft like jet skis and kayaks become more popular every year, and in 2009 there were almost thirteen million registered vessels in the United States. Unfortunately, every year there are accidents on the water that could have been avoided completely by understanding the common causes of boating accidents. It is quite surprising how deceptively few causes there are for the vast majority of boating accidents, and knowing these causes can help you and your passengers from becoming statistics.
Boating is the very essence of recreation, and as such, one the most common causes of an accident while boating is intoxication. Just as with automobiles, drinking and other forms of intoxication will inhibit an operator’s ability to make decisions and reduce their response time. Boating parties are a common site in the rivers, lakes, and coastal waters in the summer months, and when alcohol is involved, there are almost always tragic results. While accidents due to operating a vessel intoxicated are common, so are drownings, broken bones, and other injuries from passengers being intoxicated. Many times passengers fall out initially unnoticed, sometimes striking objects like floating branches, submerged rocks, or even getting hit by another boat before anyone knows they are even in the water.
Another common cause of maritime accidents is operator inexperience. Far too often operators fail to complete safety training courses or attempt to operate a vessel that is beyond their experience level. Operator inexperience can also extend to the area of operation; boating in unfamiliar waters demands vigilance and skill. Recreational water craft like jet skis can be particularly dangerous in the hands of a novice since most models do not even have a braking system. Reckless driving is a fault that even the experienced operator may suffer from, but careless operation leads to many needless injuries. Swimmers and personal water craft operators take the brunt of the punishment when it comes to reckless driving, usually resulting in head, spine, and laceration injuries.
Accidents can and will happen on the water, but one thing that all boating accidents have in common is that wearing a personal flotation device will increase your chances of surviving one. Flotation devices like life vests save thousands of lives every year and lack of one cost over 600 people theirs last year alone. Along with lack of flotation devices, failing to follow the rules and regulations on the water is one of the fastest ways to cause a boating accident. Speed limits and no-wake zones are there for everyone’s protection, and breaking these rules can result in tickets, injuries, or even deaths.
Weather and mechanical failures are two things that just cannot be controlled and cause several accidents each year. While the risks associated with them cannot be eliminated, they can be reduced through common sense and regular maintenance routines. Refraining from boating during inclement weather and proper maintenance are two of the most commonly overlooked aspects of boating safety. Over-zealousness and ego have brought more than one boating trip to an unpleasant and often dangerous end. While minor mechanical components do commonly fail, regular inspections and upkeep of the mechanical aspects of a boat can greatly reduce the chances of a major failure on the water.
The United States Coast Guard publishes a report on water related accidents each year showing statistics, trends, and graphical information for the year. In 2009 almost 5,000 individual accidents were reported in the U.S. and 646 of those were fatal. Of these nearly 5,000 accidents, 1,100 were classified as a collision with a recreational vessel, 446 were collisions with a fixed object, and skier mishaps, grounding, and flooding follow close behind. One thing the majority of all of these statistics have in common is that the accident was likely preventable through responsible boating and common sense.