Recreational Boating Safety – The 564 Club

Bob CurrieBy Bob Currie, Recreational Boating Safety Specialist
U. S. Coast Guard Auxiliary Station Galveston Flotilla
If you are a member of the 564 Club, then you are not reading this because you are dead. To be a member of the 564 Club one must have died as the result of a recreational boating accident in 2023. You may be reading this if you are a member of the 2126 Club, whose members were seriously injured in a recreational boating accident in 2023.

The sad thing about both clubs is, for many members, they didn’t do anything to become members of their respective club. They were passengers; simply innocent riders on the storm, so to speak. So yes, we should mourn the members of both clubs, knowing that not all members were inducted into the club on their own accord.

This article will examine the characteristics of the members of the 564 Club and the 2126 Club to see if we can pick out commonalities that we can identify and use to help keep us from becoming members of the 2024 clubs. The names of these clubs change every year and represent the number of new members. The goal in presenting these statistics is to try and reduce the numbers of new recruits through boater safety education. Keep in mind that these statistics represent both boat operators and their innocent passengers.

What Kinda Boat You Got?

Open Motorboat
One could say that, looking at this table, open motorboats are the most dangerous type of vessels to operate. A full 44% of all accidental boat accident deaths involved open motorboats. Let’s make a comparison to automobiles: The most dangerous type of auto to operate is the convertible. Most convertibles give you a sporty feel, and make you want to get up and go, embracing the wind. Passengers enjoy the openness and often want to move about within the vehicle. Those convertible passengers, unless buckled in, risk falling out of the car if they get a little out of hand, especially when alcohol is involved. If there is a collision, the passengers in a convertible tend to be ejected. If not buckled in Sound familiar? Open motorboats share the same characteristics as the convertible automobile. They are airy and sporty, passengers tend to want to move around when underway, and passengers can easily fall overboard when alcohol is injected into the equation. While a seatbelt saves many lives in an accident involving a convertible, it is the life jacket that saves boating passengers.

If you look at the open motorboat deaths, 60% of the deaths were attributed to drowning. What about the other 40%? Trauma. The most common type of recreational boating accident involved collision with another recreational boat, and the second most common type of accident involved collision with a fixed object. So do we ban open motorboats because they are so much more dangerous than any other type of boat? No, but we can certainly educate the owners of this type of boat to the types of activities that make them so much more dangerous: lack of experience, lack of education, no life jacket, and alcohol.

In the Deaths by Boat Type category we have a sleeper: kayaks are the second highest in number of deaths and that number is growing. Of the deaths involving kayaks, 76% of the deaths were due to drowning. Why? Most of the kayaks I have encountered have the life jacket firmly attached, but not to the kayaker. It is strapped to the rear of the seat or on the rear platform, equally out of reach in an emergency.

Kayaks are the most likely type of recreational vessel to capsize. The whole time you are aboard a kayak your muscles are working subconsciously to keep your balance. One little error and overboard you go. As you roll out of the kayak, the kayak rolls too, and the side of the kayak tends to hit you in the head with just enough force to make you unconscious. No life jacket: no live. Could have been a Bob Marley song.

Personal Watercraft
Next on the list are the Personal Watercraft, aka PWCs or jet skis. Only 32% of the PWC deaths were due to drowning. That’s because life jackets are required on PWCs. If they are required, then why were there any drowning deaths? First, no life jacket. Second, the type of life jacket worn was not designed to keep the wearer’s head above water if they were unconscious. All the newer life jackets are rated on their ability to keep an unconscious person’s head above water. It’s on the fine print on the inside of the life jacket.

Pontoon Boat
Why is the percentage of drowning deaths so high for those slow moving pontoon boats? Come on, you know it: no life jacket. That big ole swim platform just invites you to anchor and dive in. After all, the water is 100 feet deep here and there is nothing to hit. Yeehah! Yet year after year people take that 48-hour dive off a pontoon boat. That’s how long it takes for their body to surface.

The Big Picture: Looking Back

This look at the 2023 Recreational Boating Accident Statistics concentrates on boat type, but it also emphasizes that most recreational boating deaths (67%) involve drowning, which can be prevented by wearing a properly fitted life jacket. So what do we need to work on? The collisions with other boats and fixed objects. We need more responsible boaters (no alcohol on board) with education (Safe Boating Course) and training. Next week we will look at the 2126 Club.

[BC: Jun-11-2024]

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