The 2015 Recreational Boating Statistics report, released last week by the U.S. Coast Guard, showed some positive momentum for boating safety but also some setbacks.
Most notably, deaths increased from 610 in 2014 to 626 in 2015, a 2.6 percent increase and the total number of accidents increased from 4,064 to 4,158, a 2.3 percent increase. Overall, injuries decreased from 2,678 to 2,613, a 2.4 percent decrease. It’s worth noting that the 626 deaths are still the third-lowest number on record.
And in news that should surprise exactly no one, alcohol was the leading contributing factor in fatal accident, listed as as the leading factor in 17 percent of deaths. Other prominent accident causes included operator inattention, operator inexperience, machinery failure and excessive speed.
Drowning was still the top cause of death, with 76 percent (where cause of death was known) of fatal boating accident victims drowning.
And here are two other key stats: 85 percent of those drowning victims were not wearing life jackets, and, where boating instruction was known, 71 percent of deaths occurred on vessels where the operator had not received boating safety instruction.
It’s these kind of numbers that make it baffling to me when I hear some in the industry complaint about states requiring safety training, arguing it will discourage people from boating. But the question is how many people are scared away from boating because they think it is unsafe? It’s a comment I’ve heard from many a mother (and yes, it’s usually the mom, sorry) of my daughter’s classmates in the past. Even my own mom, who has been boating since she married my father 41 years ago. has never been really comfortable with it.
(To be fair, there are many industry associations and companies that continue to work to support safety.)
Of course, we’ll never be able to legislate away stupidity, but we can do better.