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Jonathan Rosenfeld
J.D

June 17, 2023

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Boat Accident Statistics Reveal Over 4000 Deaths Yearly in the US

Boating is a popular recreational activity in the US, with around 80 million people boating yearly. Unfortunately, the broad interest in boating and the high number of people that own boats also means that boat accidents are becoming increasingly common.

According to the US Coast Guard boat accident statistics, there were 4,040 boating recreational boating accidents in 2022.

Among these accidents involved 636 fatalities and 2,222 injuries.

Most incidents were caused by negligence, including operator inexperience, excessive speed, and drunken boat operators.

If you or a loved one got hurt in a boat accident caused by someone else, you deserve financial compensation.

The personal injury attorneys at Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers, LLC, can help you file a legal claim against negligent parties to hold them accountable for their actions.

Contact a Chicago boat accident lawyer at (888) 424-5757 for a free consultation.

How Many Boats Are There in the US?

Boating is a popular pastime in the US, primarily due to the vast number of coastlines, waterways, rivers, and lakes across the country. 

As of 2023, there are an estimated 14 million registered boats in the US.

According to boating statistics, common vessel types involved in accidents include open motorboats, personal watercraft, cabin motorboats, and sailboats.

Types of Boat Accidents

A boating accident can occur in several ways, the most common being:

  • Collisions with Other Boats: Crashes can occur when two or more boat operators don’t pay attention to their surroundings, drive the boat recklessly, or attempt to race.
  • Flooding or Swamping: Flooding and swamping occur when a boat fills with water but floats. This accident usually happens when a hole in the hull or a seacock loosens.
  • Grounding: A boat can run aground when an operator drives it into a too-shallow area. When this happens, passengers can get ejected from the vessel, and loose objects may turn into dangerous projectiles.
  • Falling Overboard: People can fall off a boat for various reasons, such as during collisions or grounding or when they don’t hold on properly while moving around the vessel. Falling overboard is one of the most common causes of fatal boat propeller accidents and drowning.
  • Capsizing: A boat capsizes when it turns over in the water and stays upside down. This accident often leads to the boat sinking. Boats sink due to big waves, overloading, and improper handling.

Most Common Causes of Recreational Boating Accidents

In most cases, recreational boating accidents happen due to negligence and inexperience.

According to the US Coast Guard, the primary contributing factors of recreational boat accidents include:

  • Lack of Experience and Recreational Boating Safety Education: About 70% of the US requires operators to have a Boater Safety Education Card to operate recreational vessels. However, not all states require a boating license. The lack of boating safety education accounts for many boating fatalities, usually involving collisions, capsizing, and falling overboard.
  • Poor Boat Maintenance: Poor maintenance and machinery failure are the most common reasons for flooding, capsizing, and stranding. 
  • Alcohol: Alcohol is the leading known contributing factor in fatal boating accidents. Inebriated operators are more likely to operate the boat recklessly and often fail to spot dangers ahead of time. 
  • Recklessness: Even when sober, reckless behavior can lead to a dangerous boating accident. Things such as jumping off the boat, leaning over the railing, and racing other boats can quickly turn a situation dire.
  • Lack of Proper Safety Gear: Wearing a life jacket can save someone’s life if they fall overboard. Unfortunately, the lack of life-saving gear is a primary contributing factor to the fatality rate in boat accidents. In 2022, 85% of fatal boating accident victims drowned without life jackets. 
  • Improper Lookout: There must be at least one person looking out for potential dangers (e.g., fixed objects, other boats), even in calm waters. 
Boat Accident Statistics Reveal 83% Who Died in 2022 Were Not Wearing a Lifejacket

What is the Most Common Cause of Death in Fatal Boating Accident Victims?

In 2020, 21 deaths were reported in Illinois boat accidents, accounting for 9.7 deaths per 100,000 registered recreational vessels.

Nationally, the boating fatality rate was 6.5 deaths per 100,000 registered recreational vessels.

Approximately 83% of boating accident victims drowned, and 83% of these drowning victims were not wearing a life jacket.

The boating fatality rate decreased in 2021 to 6.5 deaths per 100,000 registered recreational vessels.

There was another 1.8 decrease in the fatality rate in 2022, where the death rate was 5.4 deaths per 100,000 registered recreational vessels.

The leading known contributing factor to the fatality rate was drowning and the absence of life jackets in reported life jacket usage incidents.

For context, the fatality rate was 20.4 deaths per 100,000 registered boats when the Safe Boating Act was passed in 1971.

How Many Boating Accidents Occur Yearly in the US?

In 2022, the US Coast Guard counted 4,040 boat accidents in the US, representing a 9% decrease from the previous year’s total number of accidents (4,439).

Alcohol remained the leading factor in deadly boat accidents, accounting for 88 deaths or 16% of total fatalities.

2022 Coast Guard Boating Statistics on Fatal Boating Accidents

Boating accident statistics from the US Coast Guard (USCG) [1] show that in 2022:

  • 636 deaths occurred, a reduced fatality rate compared to 2021 (658)
  • Drowning is the leading contributing factor in fatal boating accidents
  • Property damage amounted to $63 million
  • 85% of drowning victims in incidents with reported life jacket usage were not wearing them
  • Operator inattention, operator inexperience, improper lookout, machinery failure, and excessive speed are ranked as the five primary contributing factors. 
  • In cases where boating instruction was known, 74% of deaths occurred on vessels where the operator had not received boating safety instruction.
  • Most boating accidents occur on calm waters with good weather
  • The most common vessel types involved in accidents were personal watercraft, cabin motorboats, open motorboats, kayaks, and pontoons.

2022 Coast Guard Boating Statistics on Non-Fatal Boat Accidents

In 2022, the number of non-fatal injured victims decreased by 15.9% to 2,222 compared to the previous year’s 2,641.

Common injuries in reported accidents include fractures, head injuries, burns, spinal cord injuries, and drowning.

Boat Safety Tips

Recreational boating is a great way to enjoy the waters with friends and family.

However, things can turn south when boat owners and operators have insufficient knowledge of boat safety. 

The US Coast Guard encourages people to heed the following boating safety tips [2] to avoid injury and reduce the risk of fatal accidents:

  • Receive Boat Safety Instructions. Undergo a boating safety course that meets National Boating Education Standards before attempting to operate a boat. Check if your state requires a boating safety course or boat license (or both). 
  • Wear a Life Jacket. Wearing a life jacket increases your chances of survival in an accident. Ensure your life jacket fits and is fastened properly. 
  • Attach an Engine Cut-Off Switch. The Coast Guard recommends that all operators attach the engine cut-off switch that allows the boat owner or operator to turn off the propellers when someone falls overboard.
  • Boat Sober. The Coast Guard reminds boaters to never drink before or while operating a boat or personal watercraft.
  • Maintain the Boat. The Coast Guard recommends that all boaters undergo a free vessel safety check and inspect their vessels before entering the water.

Learn about boating safety precautions at the Coast Guard Office of Auxiliary and Boating Safety (CG-BSX) website. 

Schedule a Free Consultation with Our Boat Accident Attorneys Today

Accidents in the boating industry are far more common than you think. Boating accident statistics show this activity’s danger, especially when negligence is involved. 

Operator inattention, inexperience, and lack of instruction are just some causes of boating fatalities and injuries.

If you or a loved one gets into a boating accident due to someone else’s actions, seek legal help from Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers, LLC.

Contact our personal injury law firm at (888) 424-5757 for a free consultation.

Our lawyers handle all accepted cases on a contingency fee basis. You don’t have to pay our legal fees unless we win your case.

Resources: [1] USCG, [2] Weather.gov

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