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Shoring Up the Risk of Summer Boating Accidents


Riding the waves of summer after a long, bleak winter can be exciting.  But nothing can ruin a good time in the sun like a boating accident, which can cause injury or even loss of life.

Boating accidents do not often receive a lot of press, nor are they top of mind for eager vacationers.  But the statistics tell a different story.  The rate of accidents (over just a few months of summer) are actually quite high.

The Canadian Red Cross reports the following:

Data compiled from 10,000+ individuals:  1991-2010

  • Boating accidents accounted for 32% of water-related deaths
  • 93% of dead boaters were male

Particularly troubling is the reported cause of these accidents.  For individuals aged 15+, alcohol was a contributing factor in at least 39% of deaths.  It is not hard to see how boating-related accidents are connected to issues one would not normally associate it with.  In the above scenario, some issues include:  Respect for the legal drinking age and merchants selling liquor to minors.

South of the border, the figures from the U.S. Coast Guard are also troubling:

4,062 accidents in 2013

560 resulted in death

  • 2,620 resulted in injuries
  • Caused approximately $39M of damage to property
  • Alcohol was leading cause in 16% of recorded deaths

Fatal boating accidents usually occur in June.  But oddly enough, the USCG says December was its deadliest month with 26% of boating accidents resulting in death.

What other types of accidents are also prevalent?

According to the USCG, collision with a recreational vehicle ranks highest.  That is more than double the next-highest ranking:  flooding/swamping.

Meanwhile, the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) reports that:

Boating activities account for about one-fourth of all drownings

  • Approximately three-fourths of all drowning victims are males
  • Most boating fatalities occur in small, open motorboats on inland waters — due to capsizing or passengers falling overboard

Other triggers of boating accidents involve:

  • Collisions with fixed objects
  • Grounding and water skier mishaps

Small open motorboats incur the greatest number of accidents due to their open-concept design.  This makes it easier for passengers to accidentally fall overboard.

What can individuals and families do to keep safe?

Through their sheer strength and power, oceans and lakes can give boaters the impression that the water is in control.  But in fact, we are actually not so powerless after all.  Water-related injuries and fatalities can be prevented (or at least reduced) through a combination of swimming skills and other types of preparedness.

The safety guidelines below may seem very basic and quite obvious.  But the extremely high occurrence of fatal accidents points to the need for ongoing (and sometimes repetitive) education.

Boating Safety:  

  • Ensure boys and men receive proper instruction and guidance in boating safety and water emergency preparedness
  • Ensure that all members of the group have enough swimming ability to tread water should an accident occur
  • Make sure you keep those skills up to date:  Being able to swim and tread water for five minutes one year does not mean you are up to the task 12 months later
  • Equip boats with at least one personal flotation device (PFD) per person, paying special attention to age-specific PFDs for children
  • By law, each boat must have a bailer; two paddles or two oars with oar locks; a whistle; and a fire extinguisher for a watercraft with an inboard motor

According to a poll conducted by Red Cross in 2013, comfort trumped safety for many Canadians.  As many as 20% of respondents said they did not wear a lifejacket because they found them uncomfortable.  And about 25% said they chose not to wear a life jacket because they already knew how to swim.

But as always, statistics are most valuable when they convey a message that then translates into action.

Parents who model smart behaviour to their kids will raise a new generation of safety-conscious, water-savvy boaters who know how to minimize their risk of injury or death.  It is adults who are ultimately responsible for helping reduce water-related tragedies that can so easily be avoided.

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