Recreational Boating Safety – 2018 Recreational Boating Accident Statistics

By Bob Currie, U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary Recreational Boating Safety Specialist
U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary Station Galveston Flotilla
The purpose of this column is to support the Recreational Boating Safety Program. The mission of the National Recreational Boating Safety (RBS) Program is “to ensure the public has a safe, secure, and enjoyable recreational boating experience by implementing programs that minimize the loss of life, personal injury, and property damage while cooperating with environmental and national security efforts.”

The Station Galveston Flotilla of the US Coast Guard Auxiliary operates out of the USCG Station Galveston base on Galveston Island. They aid the Coast Guard by providing maritime observation patrols in Galveston Bay; by providing recreational boating vessel safety checks; and by working alongside Coast Guard members in maritime accident investigation, small boat training, Aids to Navigation verification, and watch standing.

The Coast Guard has released their Strategic Plan of the National Recreational Boating Safety Program for 2017-2021 to address the following initiatives:

  1. Improve and expand recreational boating education, training, and outreach;
  2. Update, leverage, and enforce policies, regulations, and standards; and
  3. Improve upon and expand recreational boating data collection and research.

Executive Summary for 2018 Accidents

  • In 2018 the Coast Guard counted 4,145 accidents that involved 633 deaths, 2,511 injuries and approximately $46 million dollars of damage to property as a result of recreational boating accidents.
  • The fatality rate was 5.3 deaths per 100,000 registered recreational vessels.
  • This rate represents a 3.6% decrease from the 2017 fatality rate of 5.5 deaths per 100,000 registered recreational vessels.
  • Compared to 2017, the number of accidents decreased 3.4%, the number of deaths decreased 3.8%, and the number of injuries decreased 4.5%.
  • Where cause of death was known, 77% of fatal boating accident victims drowned. Of those drowning victims with reported life jacket usage, 84% 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 was 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, 74% of deaths occurred on boats where the operator did not receive boating safety instruction. Only 18% percent of deaths occurred on vessels where the operator had received a nationally approved boating safety education certificate.
  • There were 177 accidents in which at least one person was struck by a propeller.
  • Collectively, these accidents resulted in 25 deaths and 177 injuries.
  • Operator inattention, improper lookout, operator inexperience, machinery failure, and excessive speed 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 (19%), and cabin motorboats (15%).
  • Where data was known, the vessel types with the highest percentage of deaths were open motorboats (50%), kayaks (13.5%), and canoes (7%).
  • The 11,852,969 recreational vessels registered by the states in 2018 represent a 0.91% decrease from last year when 11,961,568 recreational vessels were registered.

Texas Statistics
Texas, Our Texas, All hail the might state!
Texas, Our Texas, So wonderful, so great!

Being a Texan is a state of mind. We hold ourselves out as being bigger, better, and the best. So, it is logical to want to know how we measured up in the Coast Guard statistics. The good news is we have continued to improve. That is, less accidents, less deaths, and less injuries than last year can make us feel good about ourselves. The numbers are:

  1. Accidents: 204 out of the national total of 4,125 (5% of the total)
  2. Deaths: 38 out of the total of 633 (6% of the total)
  3. Injuries: 123 out of the total of 2,511 (5% of the total)

We can do so much better. Whenever I perform a Vessel Safety Check, I always ask boaters if they have attended a boater safety class. For boaters born after August 31, 1993, a boater safety certificate is required, and must be presented when requested by law enforcement personnel. Many older boaters have also taken a safe boating course, but if it hasn’t been recently, I recommend taking the latest course. It is offered for free, online, by BoatUS on their website. Go to .

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 Course. In 74.2% of all accidents involving a death, the boat operator had no boater education.

Although we continue to improve our recreational boating accident statistics, there are still way too many preventable accidents happening. Two main contributors to accident statistics continue to be alcohol and failure to wear a life jacket. You can help change these numbers by having two simple rules on your boat. First, no alcohol on board. Second, everyone wears a life jacket while underway. If you would like to review the complete report from the Coast Guard, you can do so at this site: .

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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One Response to “Recreational Boating Safety – 2018 Recreational Boating Accident Statistics”

  1. It makes a lot of sense that 84% of the people who have drowned in a boating accident weren’t wearing life jackets when they were supposed to. I don’t think it matters if you’re a good swimmer or not because eventually, you’ll run out of energy. I’ll be certain to be as safe as possible when on a boat.

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