Recreational boating is a wonderful activity many people enjoy as a hobby. Unfortunately, while going out on a boat or a personal watercraft can be an enjoyable experience, it can also be dangerous – especially if the boat operator or others involved with the water excursion behave in a careless or irresponsible manner.
Boating and the use of personal watercrafts are not activities that should be undertaken without the appropriate training and understanding of the potential risks that are presented by traveling on lakes, rivers, bays, oceans, or any open waters. Unfortunately, it is common for people to engage in activities on open waterways that put themselves and others at risk. In fact, boating accidents are far too common and often have fatal or devastating consequences.
Boating Accident Risks
According to the U.S Coast Guard, there were a total of 4,463 boating accidents in the United States over the course of 2016. Together, these accidents resulted in 701 people losing their lives. An additional 2,903 people sustained injuries in boating accidents and an estimated total of $49 million worth of property damage occurred due to recreational boating accidents.
From 2015 to 2016, there was a marked increase in the number of accidents, deaths and injuries. In total, there were 7.3 percent more accidents in 2016 when compared with 2015. The number of fatalities in boating accidents increased 12 percent and there was an 11.1 percent increase in the number of injuries that occurred due to incidents on recreational boats. The fatality rate for boating accidents reached 5.9 deaths per every 100,000 registered recreational vessels in 2016, which was an 11.3 percent increase compared with a fatality rate of 5.3 fatalities per registered vessel in 2015.
Common Trends in Boating Accidents
Several types of boating accidents occurred over the course of 2016. Fatalities were especially common on smaller vessels. In fact, a full 80 percent of drowning victims were traveling on vessels 21 feet or less in length at the time when the accident caused the fatal drowning to occur.
The vessels with the highest number of deaths caused in boating accidents included motorboats, personal watercraft and cabin motorboats. A total of 47 percent of fatalities due to boating accidents occurred on open motorboats, while 13 percent of fatalities happened on kayaks and 9 percent occurred on canoes.
The size of the vessel was not the only risk factor in increasing the chances of a serious or deadly incident occurring. The absence of instruction was another common trend among fatal boating accidents. Out of all the boating accidents in which it was known whether the boat operator had received instruction or not, a total of 77 percent of fatalities happened on boats operated by drivers who had not undergone instruction. Just 13 percent of boating accident deaths happened on vessels where the person operating the boat or personal watercraft had undergone nationally-approved boating safety education and had earned certification for successfully completing the course.
How do Boating Accident Injuries and Fatalities Happen?
Most of the fatalities connected with boating accidents occurred as a result of drowning. In fact, among the total number of accidents with an identifiable cause of death, 83 percent of the victims who lost their lives in boating accidents in 2016 drowned. Of the boaters who died from drowning, 83 percent did not have a life jacket on at the time of the incident.
Fatal boating accidents are most commonly caused by operating while impaired, which is true across all vessel sizes. Essentially, this means that alcohol use has become the number one contributing factor to deadly boating accidents. After accidents in which a primary cause of the incident was identified, alcohol use was listed as the leading cause of the boating accident in 15 percent of all fatalities that occurred.
Other leading causes of boating accidents included victims being struck by a propeller; inexperienced operation of the vessel; distracted boat operation; excessive speed and machinery failure. These were the top five most common causes of boating accidents. Incidents in which victims were hit by propellers were responsible for a total of 171 accidents, 24 fatalities and an additional 175 people being injured.
Primary Types of Boating Accidents
The U.S. Coast Guard also identified the top five primary types of boating accidents that occurred in 2016. These included:
- Collisions with other recreational vessels. In total, 1,051 accidents happened when two or more recreational boats collided. These accidents caused a total of 38 fatalities and a total of 708 injuries.
- Collisions with fixed objects. Colliding with fixed vessels was the cause of 565 accidents resulting in 63 fatalities and 432 injuries.
- Flooding or swamping. A total of 470 accidents occurred in connection with flooding or swamping, resulting in 90 deaths and 156 total injuries.
- Grounding, which caused 413 accidents leading to 13 fatalities and 246 injuries.
- Capsizing, which was the cause of a total of 305 accidents. Grounding incidents caused a total of 175 fatalities and 200 injuries total.
The Coast Guard also identified the top 10 primary contributing factors to boat accidents including:
- Distracted boat operation, which caused 597 accidents, 45 fatalities, and 373 injuries.
- Operation of a boat by an inexperienced operator, which caused 480 accidents, 62 fatalities and 301 injuries.
- Improper lookout, which caused 475 accidents, 20 fatalities, and 380 injuries.
- Excessive speed, which was the cause of 360 accidents, 39 fatalities, and 380 injuries.
- Machinery failure, which caused 323 accidents, nine deaths, and 117 injuries.
- Alcohol use, which was the cause of 282 accidents, 87 fatalities, and 264 injuries.
- Bad weather, which caused 214 accidents, 41 fatalities, and 103 injuries.
- Violations of navigation rules, which caused 213 accidents, 10 deaths and 157 injuries.
- Hazardous waters, which caused 205 fatalities, 80 deaths, and 97 injuries.
- Force of wave or wake, which caused 160 accidents, seven fatalities, and 137 injuries.
In circumstances where any boating accident occurs, it is important to determine the reason for the incident so the appropriate party can be held responsible.
For example, if a collision occurs between two recreational vessels, one or both vessel drivers must have taken unsafe actions that caused or contributed to the accident occurring. Victims harmed as a result of the incident could pursue claims against the boat operator whose actions were a direct contributing cause of the incident. The boat operator should be held liable for boating accident injuries the victim experienced due to the operator’s negligent behavior that led to the vessels colliding.
It can be challenging to gather evidence to prove the specific reason for the boating accident, especially when crashes occur on open waterways with limited witnesses where evidence may be lost at sea. That is why it is important to work with a boat accident attorney who understands how to facilitate investigations into boat accidents and who can provide assistance in putting together compelling evidence to prove a boat operator should be required to provide compensation for causing injuries or causing a drowning to occur.
Get Help from a Boating Accident Attorney or Watercraft Accident Attorney Today
If you become involved in an accident while on a boat or any personal watercraft or pleasure vessel, it is important to seek the expert of an attorney who specializes in maritime law as the laws governing incidents occurring while aboard boats and other personal watercraft can be complicated. Whether the incident occurs on the open waters, the intercostal or even a lake, general maritime law will apply.
A boating accident lawyer at Lipcon, Margulies, Alsina & Winkleman, P.A. can provide representation if you have been harmed while aboard any type of boat traveling in or outside of U.S. waterways. You can also reach out to a watercraft accident attorney at our firm if you were harmed while riding a jet ski, while waterskiing or while on any personal watercraft.
Our dedicated and experienced legal team has unparalleled knowledge of the laws governing the safe operation of vessels. We not only provide representation in cases of recreational boating accidents, but we also offer assistance to maritime workers and seamen injured on vessels while performing work, as well as representation of cruise ship accident victims harmed while on a commercial cruise vessel.
If you believe you may be able to file a boat accident personal injury lawsuit on the basis of an injury sustained, contact us today to find out how we can assist with gathering evidence and preparing a strong case for compensation.