U.S. Coast Guard releases 2020 Boating Safety Statistics Report revealing a surge in fatalities during the pandemic

The U.S. Coast Guard released its 2020 Recreational Boating Statistics Report Wednesday, revealing that there were 767 boating fatalities nationwide in 2020, a 25.1 percent increase from 2019.

From 2019 to 2020, the total number of accidents increased 26.3 percent (4,168 to 5,265), and the number of non-fatal injured victims increased 24.7 percent (2,559 to 3,191). There is evidence that boating activity increased significantly during the pandemic, from reports of increased boat sales, insurance policies taken out, insurance claims, and calls for towing assistance. With the increased exposure (i.e., more boating hours), there was greater risk of deaths, injuries, and accidents. The Coast Guard is analyzing variables associated with boating activity to normalize this accident data.

Alcohol continued to be the leading known contributing factor in fatal boating accidents in 2020, accounting for over 100 deaths, or 18 percent of total fatalities.

The report also shows that in 2020:

The fatality rate was 6.5 deaths per 100,000 registered recreational vessels, the highest in the program’s recent history. This rate represents a 25 percent increase from last year’s fatality rate of 5.2 deaths per 100,000 registered recreational vessels.
Property damage totaled about $62.5 million.
Operator inattention, operator inexperience, improper lookout, excessive speed, and machinery failure ranked as the top five primary contributing factors in accidents.
Capt. Scott Johnson, chief of the Office of Auxiliary and Boating Safety at Coast Guard Headquarters, reflected on a number of cases where boaters had recently purchased the vessel involved in the incident, but had not taken many of the proper safety precautions before getting underway.

Where the cause of death was known, 75 percent of fatal boating accident victims drowned. Of those drowning victims with reported life jacket usage, 86 percent were not wearing a life jacket.

“It’s crucial for boaters to wear a life jacket at all times because it very likely will save your life if you enter the water unexpectedly,” said Johnson. “The Coast Guard reminds boaters to make sure that life jackets are serviceable, properly sized, and correctly fastened.”

Where boating instruction was known, 77 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 (50 percent), kayaks (15 percent), and pontoons (9 percent).

The report is based off on incidents that resulted in at least one of the following criteria: death, disappearance, injury that required medical treatment beyond first aid, damages to the vessel(s) or other property that equaled or exceeded $2,000, or a loss of vessel.

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.

“The Coast Guard thanks our boating safety partners,” said Johnson, “they continue to demonstrate a committed effort to reduce loss of life, injuries and property damage through education and enforcement.”

Download the report: US Recreational Boating Statistics 2020

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