Investigating Boating Accidents That Lead to Fatalities

The Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism found that July is, by far, the most dangerous month of the year for boaters in that state and that the number of fatal boating accidents that involve alcohol is down.

When I think of boating deaths, I think of ski boats and such things. But the Wisconsin investigation also showed that many of the state's boating fatalities involved non-motorized boats such as canoes and rowboats. The story said one reason so many people die in non-motorized boats is because when the boats tip over, they are difficult to upright.

The U.S. Coast Guard found that in 2007, motorboats were involved in the most fatal accidents involving drownings, followed by canoes, cabin motorboats and rowboats, respectively. Wouldn't you suspect these numbers have something to do with the sheer number of each kind of craft?

According to the Coast Guard, of the 476 boating deaths in 2007, 427 of the victims were not wearing a life jacket [PDF].

The American Boating Association said:

  • When comparing 2006 and 2007, the number of deaths dropped from 710 to 685. However, other casualty figures increased: accidents rose from 4967 to 5191, injuries rose from 3474 to 3673, and damages rose from $43,670,424 to $53,106,496.
  • Over two-thirds of all fatal boating accident victims drowned, and of those, ninety (90) percent were not wearing a life jacket.
  • Only fourteen (14) percent of deaths occurred on vessels where the operator had received boating safety instruction.
  • Three out of every four boaters who drowned were using vessels less than 21 feet in length.
  • Operator inattention, careless/reckless operation, passenger/skier behavior, excessive speed, and alcohol use rank as the top five primary contributing factors in accidents.
  • Alcohol use is the leading contributing factor in fatal boating accidents; it was listed as the leading factor in 21 percent of the deaths.
  • Sixteen (16) children age 12 and under lost their lives while boating in 2007, compared to 29 children in 2006 and 21 children in 2005. Half (eight) of the children who died in 2007 died from drowning.
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    Al Tompkins

    Al Tompkins is The Poynter Institute’s senior faculty for broadcasting and online. He has taught thousands of journalists, journalism students and educators in newsrooms around the world.


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