The latest report from the Coast Guard Office of Boating Safety shows an increase in boating accidents in 2005, but industry leaders say that coincides with an increase in the amount of boating activity.
The Coast Guard reported 4,969 accidents, 697 fatalities, 3,451 injuries and about $38.7 million in property damage in 2005. This compares to 4,904 accidents, 676 fatalities, 3,363 injuries and $35 million in property damage in 2004. The number of registered boats also increased in 2005, to 12,942,414 from 12,781,476 the year before.
"Fatalities per 100,000 boats [have] been relatively stable over the last 10 years," said Thom Dammrich, president of the National Marine Manufacturers Association. "The same thing with accidents and injuries," he added.
Mike Sciulla, vice president of the Boat Owners Association of the United States, said the weather was better in 2005 than the prior year, so there probably were more people boating. He says the Coast Guard statistics don't provide information on the number of people boating and how often they went boating in a given year.
The Coast Guard did report that about 70 percent of all fatal boating accident victims drowned (491 out of 697). Of those who drowned, 87 percent were not wearing a personal flotation device. The data shows that at least 416 lives could have been saved last year if boaters had worn their life jackets.
The most-reported type of accident was a collision with another vessel. However, capsizing and falls overboard are the most-reported types of fatal accidents and accounted for 59 percent of all boating fatalities. The Coast Guard says boat operators need to pay attention to the capacity label on their boat and be careful not to overload small boats (less than 16 feet).
Overall, carelessness/reckless operation, operator inattention, excessive speed and operator inexperience are the leading contributing factors of all reported accidents, according to the report. About 70 percent of all reported fatalities occurred on boats where the operator had not received boating safety instruction.