Boating-related deaths jumped 25% in pandemic year, Coast Guard reports show



Deaths from boating accidents increased by more than 25% in 2020, with 26% more incidents overall than in 2019, as more people took to the water during pandemic closures, according to the report Annual US Coast Guard Recreational Boating Statistics.

The report, which also noted an almost 25% increase in boating-related injuries last year, was released as the USCG heads into what is expected to be a busy weekend on the water.

This includes trying to reduce the number of boaters operating vessels under the influence of drugs or alcohol in collaboration with partner organizations through Operation Dry Water. The USCG report said alcohol was the key factor behind 18% of boating-related deaths last year, the biggest known contributing factor.

“In calendar year 2020, the Coast Guard counted 5,265 accidents involving 767 fatalities, 3,191 injuries and approximately $ 62.5 million in property damage as a result of boating accidents,” said the report. “There is evidence that boating activity has increased dramatically during the pandemic, from reports of increased boat sales, insurance policies written, insurance claims and appeals to the public. towing assistance. The Coast Guard analyzes variables associated with boating activity to standardize accident data. Many states have also reported difficulties in trying to ensure boat registration, given office closures due to the spread of COVID-19; West Virginia, for example, recorded 45% fewer boat registrations.

The fatality rate was 6.5 deaths per 100,000 registered pleasure craft in 2020, while the previous year’s rate was 5.2 deaths per 100,000 registered pleasure craft.

“When the cause of death was known, 75% of fatal boating accident victims drowned. Among drowning victims who reported using a life jacket, 86% were not wearing a life jacket, ”the report said. “When the length was known, eight out of ten boaters who drowned were using boats less than 21 feet in length… Only 12% of the deaths occurred on boats whose operator was known to have received an education certificate. nationally approved boating safety. “

Most of the fatalities – 50% – occurred on open motor boats, followed by kayaks and pontoons. The Coast Guard noted 247 accidents – killing 39 and injuring 241 – in which at least one person was struck by a propeller. The report does not count incidents in which the navigation operation was not a factor in the death of the person, such as fights on board ships, self-inflicted injuries or diving from an anchored vessel. .

The main contributing factors by number of accidents were operator inattention, operator inexperience, improper supervision, excessive speed, machine failure, violation of navigation rules, fuel consumption. alcohol, weather conditions, dangerous waters and the force of a wave or wake. Most of the accidents, fatalities and injuries occurred on lakes, ponds or reservoirs, followed by rivers or bayous.

The main types of accidents were collisions with another boat, flooding or submersion, collisions with a fixed object, stranding and falling overboard.

“Despite all efforts to document incidents, the Coast Guard is only confident in its capture of the deceased victims, as fatal accidents undoubtedly involve state or government oversight and attract more attention from media. Data on non-fatal accidents have a much lower level of confidence, ”the report notes. “Non-fatal accidents are seriously underreported because boaters are unaware of the reporting requirements or are unwilling to report. “

Captain Scott Johnson, chief of the Office of Auxiliaries and Boating Safety at Coast Guard Headquarters, said statistics underscore that “it is essential that boaters wear a life jacket at all times because it will keep you safe. will most likely save your life if you get into the water. unexpectedly.

“The Coast Guard reminds boaters to make sure life jackets are in good working order, the right size and properly fastened,” he said.

Captain Jason Brennell, chief law enforcement officer for the 17th Coast Guard District in Juneau, said the crews of the cutters and small boats will “vigilantly patrol” their local waters “over the weekend. holidays and throughout the summer to encourage safe boating habits and enforce regulations. “

“Operating a vessel under the influence of alcohol or drugs poses a serious risk to the safety of boaters,” said Brennell.

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