Recreational Boating Safety – 2017 Recreational Boating Accident Statistics

By Bob Currie, Vessel Examiner
United States Coast Guard Auxiliary Flotilla 081-06-08
It has been a year now that I have been writing this column, and it is time to see how we are doing in the recreational boating world. The US Coast Guard has released the 2017 Recreational Boating Accident Statistics. There is good news: both deaths and injuries are down. But they could be so much better if all boaters followed the rules and guidelines for safe boating. The bad news is that Texas leads the nation in recreational boating deaths with 9.6% of the deaths occurring on Texas waters. That is not the kind of “we are the best” statistic we want to have. I don’t have any pictures or graphics this week- just the cold, hard facts.

Flotilla 081-06-08 is based at Coast Guard Station Galveston. The Coast Guard Auxiliary is the uniformed civilian component of the US Coast Guard and supports the Coast Guard in nearly all mission areas. The Auxiliary was created by Congress in 1939. For more information, please visit

Summary of 2017 Recreational Boating Accident Statistics

  • In 2017, the Coast Guard counted 4,291 accidents that involved 658 deaths, 2,629 injuries and approximately $46 million dollars of damage to property as a result of recreational boating accidents.
  • The fatality rate was 5.5 deaths per 100,000 registered recreational vessels.
  • This rate represents a 6.8% decrease from the 2016 fatality rate of 5.9 deaths per 100,000 registered recreational vessels.
  • Compared to 2016, the number of accidents decreased 3.9%, the number of deaths decreased 6.1%, and the number of injuries decreased 9.4%.
  • Where cause of death was known, 76% of fatal boating accident victims drowned. Of those drowning victims with reported life jacket usage, 84.5% were not wearing a life jacket.
  • Where length was known, eight out of every ten boaters who drowned were using vessels less than 21 feet in length.
  • 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 19% of deaths.
  • Where instruction was known, 81% of deaths occurred on boats where the operator did not receive boating safety instruction. Only 14% percent of deaths occurred on vessels where the operator had received a nationally-approved boating safety education certificate.
  • There were 172 accidents in which at least one person was struck by a propeller. Collectively, these accidents resulted in 31 deaths and 162 injuries.
  • Operator inattention, improper lookout, operator inexperience, machinery failure, and alcohol use rank as the top five primary contributing factors in accidents.
  • Where data was known, the most common vessel types involved in reported accidents were open motorboats (46%), personal watercraft (18%), and cabin motorboats (16%).
  • Where data was known, the vessel types with the highest percentage of deaths were open motorboats (47%), kayaks (15%), and personal watercraft (7%).
  • The 11,961,568 recreational vessels registered by the states in 2017 represent a 0.84% increase from last year when 11,861,811 recreational vessels were registered.

Accident Reporting as Required by Federal Law
Under federal regulations (33 CFR Part 173; Subpart C – Casualty and Accident Reporting) the operator of any numbered vessel that was not required to be inspected or a vessel that was operated for recreational purposes is required to file a BAR when, as a result of an occurrence that involves the vessel or its equipment:

  1. A person dies; or
  2. A person disappears from the vessel under circumstances that indicate death or injury; or
  3. A person is injured and requires medical treatment beyond first aid; or
  4. Damage to vessels and other property totals $2,000 or more; or
  5. There is a complete loss of any vessel.

If the above conditions are met, the federal regulations state that the operator or owner must report their accident to a state reporting authority. The reporting authority can be either the state where the accident occurred, the state in which the vessel was numbered, or, if the vessel does not have a number, the state where the vessel was principally used. The owner must submit the report if the operator is deceased or unable to make the report. The regulations also state the acceptable length of time in which the accident report must be submitted to the reporting authority.

Boat operators or owners must submit:

  1. Accident reports within 48 hours of an occurrence if:
    a. A person dies within 24 hours of the occurrence; or
    b. A person requires medical treatment beyond first aid; or
    c. A person disappears from the vessel.
  2. Accident reports within 10 days of an occurrence if there is damage to the vessel/property only.

The minimum reporting requirements are set by Federal regulation, but states are allowed to have more stringent requirements. For example, some states have a lower threshold for reporting damage to vessels and other property.

What You Can Do to Help

  1. Know the boating laws and obey them.
  2. Equip your boat with the necessary safety items.
  3. Practice the “Rules of the Road.”
  4. File a float plan each time you go out.
  5. Know what to do in case of an emergency.
  6. Always wear a life jacket when underway.
  7. Remember that alcohol and boating do not mix.

You can learn more about each item above by taking a Safe Boating Coarse.

For more information on boating safety, please visit the Official Website of the U.S. Coast Guard’s Boating Safety Division at Questions about the US Coast Guard Auxiliary or our free Vessel Safety Check program may be directed to me at [email protected]. I am available to perform free Vessel Safety Checks, and I will come to your location to perform them. SAFE BOATING!


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