WASHINGTON — The U.S. Coast Guard has released its 2019 Recreational Boating Statistics Report, revealing that there were 613 boating fatalities nationwide in 2019, a 3.2 percent decrease from 2018.
From 2018 to 2019, the total number of accidents increased 0.6 percent (4,145 to 4,168), and the number of non-fatal injured victims increased 1.9 percent (2,511 to 2,559).
Alcohol continued to be the leading known contributing factor in fatal boating accidents in 2019, accounting for over 100 deaths, or 23 percent of total fatalities.
The report also shows that in 2019:
• The fatality rate was 5.2 deaths per 100,000 registered recreational vessels, which tied as the second lowest rate in the program’s history. This rate represents a 1.9 percent decrease from last year’s fatality rate of 5.3 deaths per 100,000 registered recreational vessels.
• Property damage totaled about $55 million.
• Operator inattention, improper lookout, operator inexperience, excessive speed, and alcohol use ranked as the top five primary contributing factors in accidents.
Where the cause of death was known, 79 percent of fatal boating accident victims drowned. Of those drowning victims with reported life jacket usage, 86 percent were not wearing a life jacket.
Capt. Scott Johnson, chief of the Office of Auxiliary and Boating Safety at Coast Guard Headquarters, cited one case in November, in which a party of eight in Indiana attempted to cross the White River in a 14-ft boat. Overloaded, it capsized sending occupants into the water. Five perished from drowning as a result, including a 6-year old child. None of the victims were wearing a life jacket.
“It’s critical for boaters to wear a life jacket at all times because it very likely will save your life. Ensure that it is serviceable, properly sized, and correctly worn.” Johnson noted that sometimes victims had not fastened their life jacket properly, or had not replaced the expired cartridge in their inflatable life jacket. In one case, the cartridge had been modified, making it ineffective as a lifesaving device.
Where boating instruction was known, 70 percent of deaths occurred on vessels where the operator had not received boating safety instruction. The Coast Guard recommends that all boaters take a boating safety course that meets the National Boating Education Standards prior to getting out on the water.
The most common vessel types involved in reported accidents were open motorboats, personal watercraft, and cabin motorboats. Where vessel type was known, the vessel types with the highest percentage of deaths were open motorboats (48 percent), kayaks (14 percent), and personal watercraft (8 percent).
The Coast Guard reminds all boaters to boat responsibly on the water: wear a life jacket, take a boating safety course, attach the engine cut-off switch, get a free vessel safety check, and boat sober.
“We praise our boating safety partners,” said Johnson. “Together we strive to reduce loss of life, injuries and property damage by increasing the knowledge and skill of recreational boaters.”