Boating is a special part of my family’s life. Having grown up in Orange County, we’ve built wonderful memories of great summers enjoying water skiing, wake boarding, Sea Doos, and cruising on our nearby ocean, lakes, and rivers. Boating can be fun and dangerous at the same time so I crafted this article to inform (remind) boaters of the responsibilities and dangers involved in commanding a watercraft of any type and what one should do if involved in a boating or watercraft related accident.

First, we’ll start with some facts coming from the Recreational Boating Statistics for 2009 posted by the US Coastguard.

No surprise, California Ranks High in Watercraft incidents

In 2009, the Coast Guard counted 4730 accidents in the US that involved 736 deaths, 3358 injuries and approximately $36 million dollars of damage to property as a result of recreational boating accidents. California, with all of it’s beautiful natural water resources, ranks 2nd in the US in boating accidents and accounted for 478 accidents, about 6.5 % of all watercraft related accidents, down slightly from the two years prior and less than the leading state – Florida with 9.1% of all watercraft related deaths. The fatality rate was 5.8 deaths per 100,000 registered recreational vessels. This rate represents a 3.6% increase from last year’s fatality rate of 5.6 deaths per 100,000 registered recreational vessels. California recorded 47 deaths related to boat accidents. Compared to 2008, the number of accidents decreased 1.23%, the number of deaths increased 3.81% and the number of injuries increased 0.81%.

What can we learn from this Recreational Boating Statistics Report?

Operator inattention, operator inexperience, excessive speed, improper lookout and alcohol rank as the top five primary contributing factors in accidents. Operator Inattention resulted in 749 accidents, 43 deaths, and 521 injuries. Only fourteen percent of deaths occurred on boats where the operator had received boating safety instruction. However, while Operator Inattention and Inexperience results in the highest rate of accidents, the number of deaths related to boating triples when alcohol is a contributing factor. 308 boating accidents occurred due to alcohol in 2009 and resulted in 20 deaths. Alcohol use is the leading contributing factor in fatal boating accidents; it was listed as the leading factor in 16% of the deaths. Hazardous waters also contributes to a high number of deaths in relation to the number of accidents. Almost three-fourths of all fatal boating accident victims drowned, and of those, eighty-four (84) percent were not reported as wearing a life jacket.

Where do most accidents and casualties happen?

Lakes, Ponds, Reservoirs, and Dams are the most dangerous types of body of water with more than double the amount of accidents as the number two types of body of water – Rivers, Streams, Creeks, and Swamps.

Drowning is the most common type of fatality – life jackets

The most common type of fatality reported each year is from drowning. In 2005 nearly seventy percent of all fatalities reported to the Coast Guard were the result of drowning. Of those fatalities reported, eighty-seven percent of those that drowned were not wearing their personal floatation devices (PFD/life jackets). The Coast Guard reports that of the 697 persons who drowned last year, nearly 426 could have been saved by taking time to put on a life jacket.

Your safer in a large vessel than a small vessel

Operating a small vessel of 26′ or less is much more dangerous than operating a large vessel of 40′ or more. Seven out of every ten boaters who drowned were using boats less than 21 feet in length. The most common types of vessels involved in reported accidents were open motorboats (46%), personal watercraft (22%), and cabin motorboats (14%). The highest rate of accidents happen between 2:30 – 4:30. Accidents appear to increase dramatically after 10:30am and decrease noticeably after 8:30pm.

Collisions (with another vessel or fixed object), Capsizing and falling overboard are the most reported accidents from recreational boats.

The most reported accidents involving recreational boats are capsizing and persons falling overboard. 188 deaths were reported related to falling overboard or capsizing compared to skier mishaps resulted in 13 deaths in 2009.The Coast Guard attributes these types of accidents to poor knowledge of boating safety, overloading boats beyond capacity, and inexperience of the operator. One way to prevent capsizing is to make sure that your boat is properly secured to the dock before loading. This may seem overly cautious, but make sure all of your passengers are wearing life jackets before they board the boat. Many serious accidents occur upon boarding the vessel. It’s best to have one hand on the boat and the other hand on a dock structure. Then lower yourself into the center of the boat so the boat doesn’t tip and cause one to fall. It is important to make sure that all weight is distributed evenly throughout the boat. Avoid holding objects when boarding a boat. To avoid falling overboard, stay clear from the sides of the boat. Falling overboard accidents most often occur when people lean against or sit on the sides of the boat.

Key Steps to ensure a safer boating experience

The key to a safe boating experience is to make yourself aware of the boat you are operating. Understand all regulations and guidelines of boating safety and procedures. Know the waters you are navigating. Make sure you have the proper safety equipment, including fire extinguishers and properly maintained fuel system to prevent the chance of fire. Never operate your boat while under the influence of alcohol. To prevent accidents, you must be fully alert, aware, and pay attention to your surroundings. This is impossible to accomplish for anyone who has been drinking.

Ocean Vessel Safety

Consider purchasing an emergency position indicating radio beacon (EPIRB). For only a few hundred dollars, this life-saving piece of equipment can be purchased and placed on board, making the location of the boat and its passengers much easier to determine for rescue crews. Unfortunately, to date, EPIRBs are not required equipment for ocean water vessels; it is left to the discretion of the boat owner or operator. A simple law requiring every ocean water vessel to have a working EPIRB on board could save many lives. Additionally, requiring boats to register their trips before going out to sea could also aid in rescue efforts. These trip registers could include the names of those on board, expected time of return to dock, coordinates for approximate fishing locations (if applicable), and emergency contact numbers

When do you need an attorney?

Realize that every state has different boating laws. You should understand your state’s boating laws before you hit the water. Generally one needs to appoint an attorney in cases of damage to the boats, the coastline or major injuries and death. In addition, a report about the accident must be filed within your state. Not doing so could result in fines.

A boating accident is considered personal injury, and if you have been a victim of a recreational boating accident it is important to seek the expertise of a personal injury lawyer. The approach to boating accidents by attorneys is similar in approach to an automobile accident. A personal injury lawyer may be able to help you recover damages for medical expenses (including expenses incurred for your necessary and ongoing treatments), pain and suffering, damage to personal property caused by a recreational boating accident, lost wages and lost earning capacity if your injuries disallow you from returning to work.

If you find yourself a victim of a boat accident, gather as much information as possible, such as the name, phone, address and insurance carrier of the boat operator, names, phone numbers, and addresses of witnesses. If you received physical injuries, seek medical attention by a qualified doctor to do a full physical exam to assess just how much injury you received. Keep all records including medical results with you as you would need this should you file for claims.