The United States Coast Guard estimates that there are hundreds of people who are involved in boating accidents every year. Many of these accidents result in injuries and fatalities. For example, Rhode Island averages 35-40 boating accidents every year, roughly 10% of which are fatal. Similarly, Massachusetts has around 50 accidents every year with 20% of those involving fatalities.
Factors that cause boating accidents
There are different factors that may cause boating accidents. The 2011 Recreational Boating Statistics guide of the U.S. Coast Guard showed that most boating accident injuries were actually caused by factors or events that were within the control of the operator and not natural forces such as extreme weather as one might quickly predict. The Guide’s top 10 primary contributing factors of these accidents are as follows:
- Operator Inattention - Boat operators are expected to stay alert and to be keen in paying attention to the weather, warning signs, the boat and passengers. The waters are unpredictable, which is why there is a greater degree of attention expected of the boat operator.
- Improper Lookout - A lookout is designated to watch out for threats or hazards. It is imperative for the lookout to be keen and to stay focused. Although this may seem trivial, the U.S. Coast Guard cited improper lookout as the second most common cause of boating accidents.
- Operator Inexperience - Boat operators, on average, only spend approximately 100 hours a year on the water. They often do not know how to respond to unfamiliar situations. This is why inexperience was the third leading cause of boating accidents in the U.S.
- Excessive Speed - The faster any vehicle goes, the more difficult it is to respond to dangers, especially sudden ones. With the water conditions as unpredictable as they are, boat operators need to slow down to give some allowance in order to properly avoid a collision or danger.
- Machinery Failure - Boats, like any equipment or vehicle, need proper maintenance. Proper checks before using a boat should be conducted so you know the boat is in good condition and is functioning properly.
- Alcohol Use - Alcohol use was cited as the contributing factor for 296 accidents, causing 125 fatalities and 243 injuries in 2011 in the United States alone. What's alarming about this factor is that it is the easiest one to avoid. An operator or driver who is under the influence of alcohol is intoxicated and has slower reflexes and response times. They also tend to make poor decisions. The environment, sun, wind and the motion also intensify the effect of the alcohol.
- Hazardous Waters - Hazardous waters are sudden changes in the rapid or in the current of the water. These make it difficult to manoeuver and to operate boat in general.
- Weather - Boaters need to check weather conditions and forecasts before going out. Sometimes the weather is deceptive. Don't risk everyone's safety. If you know what the weather is going to be like before you go, this will reduce the chances of someone getting hurt because of weather related factors.
- Rules of the Road/Waterway - Certain violations of rules in navigating vessels may cause boating accidents. In 2011, failure to adhere to the regulations was reported to have caused 214 accidents resulting in186 injuries and 6 deaths.
- Force of Wave/Wake - The force of wave disturbs the water and may knock you off a boat. The disturbance caused by a moving boat itself results in a wake. This can cause other vessels to be involved in boating accidents as well.
With nicer weather coming our way, everyone is going to want to be outside. For those of us who love to be on the water, please remember these safety tips. No one wants to get hurt on a family vacation. That's why you will want to make sure that you have the proper first-aid kits and life vests on your boat. Also, don't forget to have fun and apply plenty of sunscreen!