Boating Collision Statistics - Causes and Fatalities

Boating Accidents – Causes and Fatalities

Last updated Tuesday, July 19th, 2022

Boating Accidents – Causes and Fatalities

Being out on the water can bring a joy like no other. There’s fresh air, fun and fish. However, boating collision statistics are the last thing on your mind, and what began as a marine joyride can turn traumatic in a split second. One minute you’re enjoying the time of your life. The next minute you could be fighting for your life.

A boat crash can leave a watery trail of death and destruction. And if that boating accident could have been prevented, lingering questions can bring emotions to the boiling point. What could have caused such a catastrophe?

Shuman Legal investigates how these accidents happen. We’re committed to seeking justice for those who can’t fight for themselves. If you were injured in a boating accident because of another’s negligence, we can help!

Boating Collision Statistics

Let’s dive into some harsh realities. You may be itching to get your sea legs, but the best boating adventures are met with caution.

Each year, the United States Coast Guard collects boating accident data. What’s especially staggering is that the Coasties don’t necessarily know about every single crash. The following are some alarming statistics for 2021, courtesy of the USCG:

  • There were 4,439 accidents resulting in 658 fatalities.
  • Drowning produced most of those fatalities (81 percent) in cases where cause of death was determined.
  • A reported 83 percent of drowning victims weren’t wearing life jackets.
  • Alcohol continues to lead the pack in contributing to boat fatalities. When accident causes were established, 16 percent were due to use of this substance.
  • When training was known, 75 percent of deaths happened when would-be skippers had no type of boating safety education.

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Frequency of Injuries

Just because you make it out of a boating accident alive doesn’t necessarily mean smooth sailing. Anything from sprained ankles to devastating injuries can occur in watercraft accidents.

The USCG revealed these boating injury statistics from 2021:

  • Out of the 4,439 accidents that occurred, there were 2,641 injuries and an estimated $67.5 million dollars in property damages.
  • Boating accidents with highest number of deaths and injuries happened in warmer months of May, June, July and August.
  • Most accidents (2,042) occurred and injuries (1,299) happened while boats were in dams, gravel pits, lakes, ponds or reservoirs.
  • Operators without any boating education were involved in 2,088 accidents, 1,097 injuries and 242 deaths.
  • Open motorboats were involved in the highest percentage of deaths (44 percent).

All of these statistics may make you wonder how dangerous boating is. Compared to other motor vehicles, operating a boat is actually pretty safe.

Consider this: there were 6,756,000 motor vehicle accidents reported in 2019. The same year there was just over 4,150 boating accidents. Cars and trucks are more widely used than boats. It makes sense that road vehicles are to blame for far more accidents than boats.

FAQs about Boating Accidents

What Are the Odds of Dying on a Boat?

Not every boat crash results in death. But don’t go letting your guard down just yet. Behind every watercraft lurks the hint of danger. Keeping a watchful eye on what could happen can make a good skipper great.

Nervous nellies may want to see some figures before hopping aboard that pontoon. There can be times where news coverage seems to be jam-packed with boating tragedies. But what do the numbers say?

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reported that motor vehicle accidents claimed 38,824 lives in 2020. So roughly .012 percent of Americans died due to car crashes based on population figures.

That same year, the fatality rate came out to 6.5 deaths per 100,000 boats. The USCG found that 767 people died in recreational boating accidents. Census data reflects there were 331,449,281 people in 2020. According to these calculations, you have a .000231 percent chance of being killed when boating. Those are pretty low odds.

What Are the Odds of Getting Hit by a Boat?

There are many variables that go into figuring out this answer. Consider these questions:

  • Have you taken a basic boating safety class? Operators without any training are way more at risk than those armed with knowledge.
  • How often do you go boating? Of course the more you enjoy this pastime, the higher the odds are of being in an accident. It’s hard to get hit by a boat when you’re on land.
  • When do you take the boat out? Saturdays and Sundays see more accidents than weekdays. The time of day matters too. More crashes happen between 12:31 PM and 6:30 PM.
  • Where do you enjoy this activity? Accidents seem to be far less prevalent in the great lakes, ocean and gulf. Certain states also have higher incident rates.

Consequences can be devastating when you or a loved one is struck by a boat. There are many things to consider. The financial burden can be overwhelming. Medical expenses add up quickly. Here at Shuman Legal, we understand the ugly side of boating. Our affordable attorneys have the experience to get you properly compensated.

Are Boat Accidents Common?

Yes and no. Yes, because these incidents are much more common than they should be. If you were to look at accident reports, you’d see many of these situations could (and should) have been avoided altogether.

There is always the threat of a true accident. Preparations can reduce risks, preventing property damage, injuries and death. Some avoidable scenarios include:

  • Capsizing or Becoming Swamped. Overloading, turning too quickly or having an unbalanced load can cause these conditions. Improper anchoring and going out in bad weather can also get boaters into trouble.
  • Collisions. A crash is often the result of operators who don’t know how to deal with situations. Failing to maintain watch, not staying sober and/or using shipping lanes are also contributing factors.
  • Falling Overboard. Choosing fashion over function can be a deadly mistake. Keeping life jackets stowed away instead of on passengers can prove fatal.
  • Fires. Most nautical fires begin around the engine. Electrical systems, battery wiring, faulty connections and leaks can be avoided by keeping tabs on maintenance.
  • Running Aground. Speeding, not observing shallow water markers and failing to consult nautical charts can cause boats to run aground.

Boating accidents are not common when compared to other unintentional types of injuries. Below are some top causes of nonfatal injuries according to the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

  • Falls
  • Overexertion
  • Motor Vehicle Accidents
  • Cut or Piercing
  • Poisoning

What leads to boating-related injuries? According to the USCG, the top factors that resulted in 2021 boat crashes with injuries are:

  1. Distracted While Operating Boat
  2.  Ineffective Lookout
  3. Speeding
  4. Tie Between Use of Alcohol and Force of Wave or Wake
  5. Violation of One or More Navigation Rules

What is the Leading Cause of Death in Boating Accidents?

Boating can turn deadly in a fraction of a second. How? There are various theories, most of which involve operator error.

Types of boating accidents that led to fatalities in 2021 are listed below from most to least.

  1. Falling Overboard
  2. Capsizing
  3. Leaving Vessel
  4. Flooding/Swamping
  5. Being Ejected from Vessel
  6. Collision with a Fixed Object
  7. Collision with a Recreational Watercraft
  8. Running Aground
  9. Collision with a Submerged Object
  10. Mishap with Skier
  11. Commercial Vessel Collision
  12. Collision with a Floating Object
  13. Tie Between Carbon Monoxide Poisoning and Falling within Vessel
  14. Fire/explosion (Non-fuel Related)
  15. Tie Between Fire/explosion (Source Unknown) and Person Struck by Vessel
  16. Tie Between Fuel Fire/explosion, Person Struck by Propeller and Other
  17. Tie Between Collision with Government Vessel, Electrocution, Sinking and Sudden Medical Condition. No deaths occurred from any of these types of accidents this year.

The USCG determined some of the top factors that contributed to boating deaths in 2021:

  1. Unknown
  2. Use of Alcohol
  3. Operating in Hazardous Waters
  4. Operator’s Lack of Experience
  5. Other
  6. Distracted Operator
  7. Weather
  8. Speeding

What Are the Most Common Boating Accidents?

There’s not one standard scenario that continues recurring. Boating varies vastly based on the location, vessel, season, conditions, time of day, operators and more.

Just like most things, statistics change from year to year. USCG data from 2021 shows what scenarios to keep on your radar.

The top ten kinds of boating accidents that occurred in 2021 are as follows in descending order.

  1. Colliding with Recreational Vehicle
  2. Hitting a Fixed Object
  3. Flooding/swamping
  4. Running Aground
  5. Someone Falling Overboard
  6. Capsizing
  7. Mishap with a Skier
  8. Colliding with a Submerged Object
  9. Someone Getting Ejected from Boat
  10. Someone Leaving the Vessel

How do Most Boating Accidents Happen?

Understanding how an accident can happen can keep you safe. Put that knowledge to work. Take precautions to guard against things you can prevent.

Troubleshoot some common reasons behind boating accidents.

  • Failure to Lookout. Knowing what’s going on around you at all times is a critical part of boating safety. Looking out for potential dangers is a must, no matter the kind of watercraft or size of vessel you’re operating.
  • Fires. Taking the time and effort to ensure fire extinguishers work well saves lives. Even better? Developing and running frequent fire drills. Get a Vessel Safety Check (VSC). Conduct safety inspections before every departure. Sniff for fumes.
  • Inattention. When you’re out on the water there are many things vying for your attention. Keep your eyes on immediate surroundings. Stay mentally alert. Lack of focus can bring on the pain. Pay attention to stay afloat.
  • Inexperience. Get a better grasp of maneuvering your vessel by practicing. When taking practice runs, opt for taking a mentor instead of an audience. Choose a day where calm waters are expected, weather will be good and crowds are elsewhere.
  • Passenger Behavior. Lay down the law when people come aboard any craft you operate. Don’t let passengers turn your boat into their personal party cruise. Anyone who fails to follow the rules should be taken back to shore. Advise everyone to wear PFDs at all times.
  • Speeding. Obeying speed limits and no wake zones are just the beginning. Slow down when water is choppy, there are crowds, you come close to shore, you’re in a narrow channel or you’re nearing the dock.

The USCG noted that boating accidents in 2021 were caused by:

  1. Distracted Operator
  2. Operator’s Lack of Experience
  3. Ineffective Lookout
  4. Machinery Failure
  5. Speeding
  6. Use of Alcohol
  7. Force of Wave or Wake
  8. Unknown
  9. Other
  10. Violation of One or More Navigation Rules

Which States Have the Most Boating Accidents?

The Sunshine State claims the number one spot year after year. The main reason Florida continues to lead the nation in boating accidents can boil down to numbers. There are more registered recreational water vessels there than in any other state.

Florida also has:

  • 7,700 Lakes
  • 1,350 Coast-lined Miles
  • 2,276 Miles of Tidal Shorelines
  • More Than 2.3 Million Acres of Coast, Bay and Sound Areas
  • More than 1.6 million Acres of Inland Waters

Another fact to consider: Florida annually welcomes 100 million-plus tourists. Do many of these folks want to rent boats? Probably. Will everyone who operates a boat be qualified, competent and abide by the rules? Probably not.

The past five years has seen little change in the top three states where most recreational boating accidents occur.

  1. Florida (Which leads by a mile)
  2. California
  3. Texas

Other states frequently appearing on the top ten list include:

  • Maryland
  • Missouri
  • New York
  • North Carolina
  • Ohio
  • South Carolina
  • Tennessee

Several states border a gulf or ocean. Many parts of the country have abundant lakes and rivers. But bodies of water aplenty don’t necessarily equate to more accidents.

There are many areas in the U.S. where boating accidents are not the norm. Numbers collected by the USCG favor areas such as:

  • America Samoa
  • Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands
  • District of Columbia
  • Guam
  • Puerto Rico
  • Vermont
  • Virgin Islands

Numbers aren’t everything. Don’t freak out if you live in an area where boating crashes are common. Just be aware of potential dangers. Protect yourself, your loved ones and your property. Act responsibly. Understanding the threat is the first step of defense.


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