You might not know it, but recreational boating is more dangerous than driving. That’s not to say you shouldn’t enjoy the open waters, but it does mean you should boat safely. Just as you need to drive safely when you get behind the wheel.
Every year, the U.S. Coast Guard publishes a report on the nation’s recreational boating accidents. Every year, the report reminds us that thousands of people suffer boating injuries and hundreds die. As you might expect, California ranks near the top for boating accidents. But the good news is that most boating accidents and nearly all deaths are preventable.
How is boating more dangerous than driving a car?
The Coast Guard uses a different metric for boating deaths than the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) uses to measure auto deaths. Where the NHTSA measures fatalities per 100 million miles, the Coast Guard measures deaths per 100,000 boats.
The latest NHTSA figures show that Californians suffered 1.02 auto deaths per 100 million miles traveled. Recreational boaters suffered 5.2 deaths per 100,000 boats. That means that if each boat averaged 1,000 miles per year, boating proved nearly five times more dangerous. Even if each boat averaged 2,000 miles, boating would still be more than twice as deadly.
Given that the average boat sails less than two weeks out of the year, it’s likely most boats sail fewer than 2,000 miles each year. And the numbers suggest boating is more dangerous than driving.
How to use the statistics to your advantage
This information shouldn’t scare you away from boating. But it should remind you that it’s important to pay attention to your safety. Most of the factors that contribute to boating accidents are well within your control. In fact, the Coast Guard reports that the leading types of accidents were:
- Collisions with other vehicles
- Collisions with fixed objects
- Flooding or swamping
- Falls overboard
Bad weather may sometimes play a role, but less often than you may expect. Instead, most factors leading to these accidents go right back to the people in charge:
- Distracted operators
- Inexperienced boaters
- Alcohol use
- Machinery failure
While machinery failure could stem from poor construction, it’s more likely to stem from poor care and maintenance.
For all these points, however, there’s one that stands above all others. Most boating accidents aren’t fatal. And there’s one simple thing you can do to avoid a fatal accident: Wear a life jacket. Drowning accounted for nearly four-fifths of all boating deaths. Nearly 90 percent of all those who drowned did not wear a life jacket.
What happens when events veer outside your control?
While the Coast Guard’s report clearly shows that you can improve your safety by making good decisions, it also acknowledges that some things may be beyond your control. You won’t always know if your chartered boat has been properly maintained. The weather may turn on you. Or a drunken boater may lose control and run into you.
If you suffer injuries due to someone else’s fault, it’s possible to seek compensation. However, your case may not fall under state law. Depending on the circumstances, including where they travel, recreational boaters may need to file their claims under maritime law.
Boating can be a great way to enjoy California waters. The best trips are the ones that lead to stories you can share with your friends and family. That means getting home safely.