With all the water surrounding a vessel, it would easily appear that boating is the least risky recreational activity – unless you fall overboard and do not know how to swim. The fact, however, is, a boating accident is just like any other motor vehicle accident; if person behind a boat’s wheel does not follow proper safety procedures, or operates his/her vessel while intoxicated, then he/she and all other boat passengers may likely find themselves in a bad situation.
The U.S. Coast Guard makes a yearly statistical record of all reported boating accidents in the US. For the year 2012, 651 fatalities and 3,000 injuries were recorded under recreational boating. Though this number is the lowest since 2004, this can still be considered to be pretty high considering the fact that boating accidents can be avoided.
Records from the U.S. Coast Guard also reveal that the top causes of boating accidents are excessive speed, machinery failure, improper lookout, operator’s lack of experience, man overboard and capsizing; in all these accidents, fault is attributed either to drunk operators or drunk passengers.
The following are facts about each of the top causes of boating accidents:
- Excessive speed: if speeding on the road is like challenging the angel of death to snatch the life out of you through a tragic accident, operating a boat at excessive speed is no different. The force of impact created each time a speeding boat bounces off and back on the water can be strong enough to stun you and throw you or your passenger/s overboard, leaving you or anyone else with not enough strength to swim to safety. Boat owners and operators ought to know that drowning is the number one cause of death in the water and 80% of those who drowned were reported as not wearing a life jacket.
- Machinery failure: if regularly maintained machines are still prone to malfunction, what can one expect with those that are not regularly checked and kept in good condition? Boats are definitely much more expensive than cars, thus, making sure that these are well maintained is not only less costly, but may also reduce chances of an accident (provided, of course, that the operator never does any irresponsible thing).
- Improper lookout or improper forward watch: when operating a boat, steering clear out of danger can be more effectively done with the help of someone who can provide extra eyes and ears. Many accidents due to collision could have been avoided had an operator been given help in navigating his/her boat safely – to avoid anything that may cross its path or to navigate safely through shallow and rocky waters.
- Inexperience: the less knowledgeable an operator is about his/her boat and the sea, the greater the risk of an accident, especially during emergency situations. While some states never require boat operators to undergo formal training, having the initiative to do so will definitely be beneficial; this includes paying lower insurance premiums.
- Man overboard: abrupt maneuvering, freak waves, and rough weather can toss a passenger overboard, especially one who is not securely seated, intoxicated or just caught off-guard. The shift in momentum created by a powerboat, as it makes a turn, can also have the same effect.
- Capsizing: this leading cause of fatality in boating accidents usually occurs during nightfall, when both darkness and intoxication begin to cause an operator to make poor judgment, especially when maneuvering, docking or anchoring. It is always safer to secure an anchor from the bow (front), rather than from the stern (the rear of the boat), or from the sides.
Taking a formal boating safety training course, wearing a life jacket, conducting a vessel safety check regularly, not drinking while out in the seas, not overspeeding and having a proper forward watch are just a number of the safety tips that the Coast Guard asks boaters to observe.
In its website, the law firm Truslow & Truslow says, “Many people who are on the water enjoy the view of the beautiful beaches with a drink in hand. However, when a boater is believed to have become too intoxicated to properly operate a boat, they can face serious criminal charges. In South Carolina, for instance, where those who engage in boating under the influence of drugs or alcohol (BUI) has increased so much that approximately 34% of boating fatalities per year are caused by BUI’s, simply operating a boat gives implied consent for a law enforcement officer to perform an alcohol test. Failing such a test can lead to fines of up to $6,000 and imprisonment for up to three years. It is possible to protect yourself from the harsh penalties that can be incurred for boating while intoxicated (BWI) charges with the help of an experienced Columbia boating while intoxicated attorney.”