The perfect boating excursion should end with fun memories and stronger bonds with your boating companions. But unfortunately, boating accidents do happen, especially when you let your guard down. And there are dangerous consequences when an accident occurs. For instance, in 2021, the U.S. Coast Guard recorded 4,439 boating accidents that involved 658 deaths and 2,641 injuries.
So, among those incidents, what are the most common boating accidents? How do they occur, and how can you avoid them? Keep reading to discover. Educating yourself about boating mishaps that lead to injuries or deaths is a smart way to prevent these situations from happening to you.
8 Most Common Boating Accidents
Based on information gathered from the US Coast Guard and other research of my own, Here are the most common boating accidents:
1. Collision with Another Vessel
The most frequent type of boating accident is a collision with another recreational vessel. And when two watercraft crash into each other, either injuries, fatalities, or property damage occurs. This type of accident usually happens when two boaters aren’t concentrating on what’s going on in their surroundings, especially in busy waterways.
The operator may also misread the behavior of the other vessel operator. To avoid a disaster, make sure you have a clear view of the waterways you’re navigating. You should also be familiar with the navigation rules in your area. This can be learned by taking the boating safety course which is now required for most states in the US.
2. Collision with a Fixed Object
If your vessel strikes a fixed object, whether above or below the water surface, it can cause a nasty accident. The object can be a marker, buoy, island, sand bar, drilling rig, bridge, reef, rocks, or even a stationary vessel. Even when a boat is fitted with modern navigational technology, these types of accidents do happen.
Crashing into a fixed object or stationary boat often occurs due to poor judgment, inattention, or human error. While it may be easier to spot things above the water, sometimes the operator may be unaware of underwater rocks or other hazards hidden from view, making it hard to avoid them. Always study the area in which you’ll be operating, including shoals and fixed underwater hazards before launching.
Many modern navigational systems will display shallow areas that you need to avoid.
Flooding and swamping is the third most common type of boating accident, according to the U.S. Coast Guard statistics. It was responsible for 461 accidents, injuring 100 and taking the lives of 55. Flooding occurs when a boat fills with water but sometimes the boat still manages to float on the surface of the water.
Water can get on board your vessel in a variety of ways. For instance, during heavy rains or a storm, your vessel can flood. Your boat can also swamp in the rough seas when strong winds and tides create giant waves that wash in over the side. The best way to reduce the chances of this accident happening is to closely watch the weather reports before going out and making sure your bilge is working correctly.
It’s always a good idea to have a water bailer such as this one on Amazon in your boat as backup in case the bilge stops working.
4. Running Aground
Grounding occurs when there is no longer deep enough water to float a vessel. Running aground can range from unintentional soft beaching where the accident isn’t serious to hard grounding where you strike objects, such as piling, reef, or rocks. Hard or severe grounding can destroy your boat and lead to injury or death.
Most grounding accidents happen when the skipper is not well-informed about the waters and makes a poor judgment, or when there’s a change in the bottom structure of a waterway. Other commonly cited reasons include currents, wind, darkness, and poor visibility. If you’re boating in unfamiliar waters, always consult a nautical chart of the area. Of course, you’ll also want to keep a proper lookout and maintain a safe speed.
5. Falling Overboard
An overboard fall may seem like an embarrassing incident, but it’s one of the most dangerous accidents that happen when boating. It occurs when a passenger or operator unintentionally exits the vessel, especially when a boat is making erratic movements like a sharp turn or sudden stop. You may drown when you fall overboard and aren’t rescued on time.
If you fall into cold water, the stakes are even higher, and you may die even after a quick rescue. A plunge in chilly water can cause cold shock that kills in 3 minutes or hypothermia shortly after you’re rescued. Falls overboard can be prevented by equipping the boat with proper railings, avoiding getting intoxicated while on a vessel, and having a non-skid material on the boat. Wearing personal flotation devices will also reduce the risk of drowning.
Also, make sure you avoid any sharp turns. Bass boats are very susceptible to this as they are very low and go very fast. Don’t cut anyone off or try to take shortcuts in bass tournaments, I’ve seen guys try and end up getting put in a dangerous situation.
One type of accident that occurs more often than you may realize is capsizing. This is a boating emergency that takes place when a vessel is swamped with water and tips over or lies on its side, becoming immobile. A capsized boat loses many of its boating functions and can cause electrocution. It may even sink, drowning its occupants.
A boat may capsize due to a number of reasons—strong and powerful waves, poor weight distribution causing an imbalance, and water leaks. It can also occur when your vessel collides with another boat or obstacle or when stormwater floods the boat. Generally, capsizing occurs most often with small boats like canoes, Jon boats, and small sailboats. However, it could happen to any sized boat if the conditions are bad enough.
7. Catching Fire
Another accident that occurs regularly in the water is a boat fire. And these fires don’t only occur after striking something. In fact, most fires start because of electrical problems, such as wires becoming frayed or damaged. They also occur due to battery issues, fuel leaks, smoking, space heaters, inattentive cooking, and poor vessel maintenance.
To prevent boat fires, inspect and service your vessel regularly, properly install battery cables, and store flammable liquids in safe containers and away from heat sources. Thankfully, these types of accidents are increasingly rare due to spark-protected mechanical systems and double-clamped fuel lines. To be safe, bring fire extinguishers rated for fuel or electrical fires and make sure those extinguishers aren’t expired.
8. Carbon Monoxide
Every year, many boating adventures end tragically due to carbon monoxide poisoning. Since 2000, over 800 incidents of CO poisoning and 140 deaths have been reported in boats. CO poses an unseen danger as it’s a poisonous gas with no smell or taste. Most people think carbon monoxide only builds up indoors, but it can also accumulate on the aft deck or cockpit when at slow speeds or idling.
This toxic gas is mainly produced by gasoline-powered engines and onboard generators, but devices such as space heaters are also a major culprit. To avoid this risk, properly maintain your fuel-burning engine, educate everyone onboard about the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning, anchor at least 20 feet away from other boats to avoid emissions, never block your boat’s exhaust outlets, and install waterproof CO detectors. This CO detector on Amazon would be perfect.
When it comes to recreational vessels, operators and their guests often focus on entertainment and ignore basic safety. In this section, we will explore the primary contributing factors to accidents when boating. We’ve listed them starting with the ones that cause the most accidents.
Lack of attention when operating the vessel is the top reason boats collide, passengers fall overboard, and other avoidable accidents occur. It only takes a few moments of distraction to cause an operator to fail to notice a smaller boat or an object in the water. The skipper should at all times stay vigilant and constantly monitor their boat, the waterways, and the weather.
Watercraft can be quite tough to operate and control, especially for an inexperienced person. These newbie boat operators pose a significantly higher risk to those around them on the water as they are prone to mistakes. To prevent accidents, a novice should always be supervised by a seasoned boater.
Distractions are always present on the water, whether you’re boating in a crowded lake or a remote area. With that in mind, an operator needs to constantly be on the lookout through sight and hearing. Scanning the surroundings for hazards will allow you to identify anything that could impede your course and take action before an accident takes place.
Another common cause of boating accidents is machinery failure. If there’s a defect or failure with any part of the boat, everyone on board is at risk. For instance, fuel leaks and damaged wires can start fires, while an engine breakdown can leave you stranded for extended periods and expose you to extreme weather changes.
Just as you drive at safe speeds on the roadway, it is important you operate your boat at a safe speed. Unfortunately, many operators drive at high speeds, which makes it hard for them to react quickly enough to situations. Additionally, some skippers fail to match the speed to the conditions. When driving at night, in poor visibility, or in bad weather, always drive slow.
Another chief cause of boating accidents is operating under the influence. Alcohol or drugs makes your reaction times slow and your decision-making much less rational. If you’re planning to unwind while enjoying some drinks with your buddies, have a designated boat operator and limit the amount of drinking.
The force of Wave or Wake
A wake is a wave that follows the track of a moving boat as it displaces water. In 2021, 241 accidents occurred, and 16 people lost their lives in encounters with boat wakes. These boat-induced waves cause other vessels to rock, swamp, or capsize. The instability they cause could also throw other boats’ passengers off balance or overboard.
Operating a pleasure craft safely requires some knowledge of the rules. There are basic rules that apply everywhere and site-specific regulations that you need to read up if you’re new in the area. Unfortunately, many boaters ignore them, leading to devastating accidents. Make an effort to learn things like who should give way in what situation, how to overtake and cross safely, what various sound signals mean, and the specific emergency gear you need to carry.
Before hitting the waters, make sure the area you want to recreate is safe for boating. Hazards in the water that can cause accidents include submerged rocks or objects, strong currents, and shallow waters. Furthermore, crowded waterways, especially on holidays, can also be a risk. Also, avoid boating above a dam and areas below it,
A drastic change in weather conditions is a major factor behind many boating and sailing accidents. Strong winds, heavy rain, or sudden lightning are real dangers that can cause flooding inside the boat, swells, and large waves that may threaten to capsize your vessel. To avoid weather woes, always listen to the weather forecast and constantly monitor the skies.
So, how do you avoid boating mishaps? Here are a few quick tips you can use to be safe when boating.
- Wear Life Jackets Or Have Them Readily Available – According to the U.S. Coast Guard, over 80% of people who died in a boating accident could have survived if they were wearing a life jacket. Equally important, the jackets should be the correct fit.
- Take a Boating Safety Course – The majority of boating accidents happen due to poor decision-making. A safety course will improve your skills in all departments, from operating, navigating, and reading the weather to responding to emergencies.
- Keep a Fully Stocked Emergency Kit – Before leaving the dock, make sure your ditch bag and first aid kit are well stocked. You should have supplies like a fire extinguisher, flares, navigation lights, and a whistle or horn.
- Adopt Technology – Use navigation aides to detect submerged objects. If you’re using an outboard, always wear a kill cord or ensure everyone on board is wearing a wireless kill switch.
- Avoid the Following – Avoid boating under the influence, overspeeding, overloading, and neglecting boat maintenance.
Coastal waterways, lakes, and rivers provide boaters with many opportunities for some fun in the water. But as you enjoy yourself, don’t forget to keep safety at the top of your mind. Hopefully, this guide will help you become aware of the dangers that lurk in the waterways and how you can avoid being a victim or the cause of a boating accident.