Common Causes of Boating Accidents in the US

Summer is upon us, and many of us turn to the water as a fun escape from the heat. Swimming pools, lakes, and other bodies of water are a common destination for families looking for fun in the sun. Unfortunately, these fun and exciting water based activities carry with them a certain amount of interent risk.  According to the records released by the US Coast Guard in 2015, boating accidents have a wide and varied expanse when it comes to causes and factors that influence the severity of these water-based accidents:

  • In 2015, the Coast Guard counted 4,158 accidents that involved 626 deaths, 2,613 injuries and approximately $42 million dollars of damage. The fatality rate was 5.3 deaths per 100,000 registered recreational vessels.
  • Where cause of death was known, 76% of fatal boating accident victims drowned. Of those drowning victims with reported life jacket usage, 85% were not wearing a life jacket.
  • Where instruction was known, 71% of deaths occurred on boats where the operator did not receive boating safety instruction. Only 15% percent of deaths occurred on vessels where the operator had received a nationally-approved boating safety education certificate.
  • There were 158 accidents in which at least one person was struck by a propeller. Collectively, these accidents resulted in 27 deaths and 150 injuries.
  • Eight out of every ten boaters who drowned were using vessels less than 21 feet in length.
  • Operator inattention, operator inexperience, improper lookout, machinery failure, and excessive speed rank as the top five primary contributing factors in accidents.
  • Alcohol use is the leading known contributing factor in fatal boating accidents; where the primary cause was known, it was listed as the leading factor in 17% of deaths.
  • Twenty-two children under age thirteen lost their lives while boating in 2015. Twelve children (55%) died from drowning. Two children (17%) of those who drowned were wearing a life jacket; half of the remaining ten children who were not wearing a life jacket were not required to do so under State law.


Here are the top 10 reasons why boating accidents occur:

  1. Operator inattention: Boat operators are required at all times to stay vigilant and constantly monitor their boat, the weather and any unsafe conditions or objects nearby. Conditions at sea may be unpredictable, which means operators should look for early warning signs of any hazards out there.
  2. Improper lookout: Another common cause of boating accidents is the lack of a proper lookout who was designated to watch for threats or hazards.
  3. Inexperience of operators: According the U.S. Coast Guard’s annual report, operator inexperience was the third most common cause of boating accidents. Operators not only need to understand the basics of boating and rules of navigation, but they also need to be prepared to handle emergency situations.
  4. Excessive speed: Just as we drive at safe speeds on the roadway, it is critical to operate your boat at a safe speed. This will give you time to react to dangers. Excessive speed may result in collisions with other boats or vessels.
  5. Impaired operation: Alcohol or drug use can be a factor in boat accidents that result in death or serious injury. In Rhode Island and Massachusetts, the legal limit of blood alcohol level for boaters is the same as it is for automobile drivers – 0.08 percent.
  6. Equipment failure: Proper boat maintenance is crucial for its safe operation. It is the responsibility of the boat owner to make the necessary checks to ensure that the boat is in good condition.
  7. Violating navigational rules: In the water, these are similar to the rules of the road. Violating the rules of navigation can prove to be extremely dangerous. It may lead to crashes with other boats or running the boat aground.
  8. Dangerous waters: Conditions in the water can change within a matter of minutes. While some situations cannot be anticipated, there are scenarios that can be expected. Operators of boats should be mindful at all times of the conditions.
  9. Weather: Boat operators should always check weather conditions including storm forecasts and wind patterns, before heading out. Never ignore weather alerts.
  10. Force of waves or wakes: A wake is the disturbance of the water resulting from the passage of the boat’s hull. A force of a large wave or a wake can cause accidents, injuries or even fatalities.

If you or a loved one has been injured in a boating accident caused by someone else’s negligence, recklessness or wrongdoing, you can seek compensation for damages including medical expenses, loss of wages and benefits, hospitalization, permanent injuries, pain and suffering and emotional distress. An experienced boat accident lawyer will help victims and families better understand their legal rights and options.