The Major Cause of Fatalities Involving Small Boats: A Closer Look

which is the major cause of fatalities involving small boats

If you’ve been in the boating industry for a while now, you’re probably already aware of the surge in boat ownership during the pandemic. Unfortunately, this rise in popularity came at a deadly cost: boating fatalities increased by more than 25% compared to 2019.

In 2020, a staggering 80% of these fatalities occurred in small recreational vessels, particularly those 21 feet and below. Naturally, this begs the question: what is the major cause of fatalities involving small boats?

Unsurprisingly, the leading cause is drowning, primarily due to going overboard, collisions, or capsizing. Let’s delve deeper into the most common causes of these fatalities.

The Main Causes of Death for Recreational Boaters Using Smaller Vessels

cause someone to fall overboard

When a small open boat capsizes or has an accident, there are tell-tale clues that we can examine. Let’s focus on the hard data to better understand the major cause of fatalities involving small vessels.

1. Going overboard

boat gets swamped far from shore

Statistics reveal that a significant 36% of fatalities are caused by falling overboard, making it the highest contributing factor. Reckless behavior, whether from passengers or boat operators, often leads to such accidents, primarily due to a lack of basic safety education.

Inadequate education is not the sole issue at hand; small boats generally carry fewer safety equipment items such as life jackets. Due to limited carrying capacity, these vessels struggle to accommodate essential safety gear. Shockingly, this is a major reason why 86% of drowning victims in recent years were not wearing life jackets.

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Moreover, when someone goes overboard, they face the risk of being struck by propellers, which can be fatal regardless of vessel size. In fact, in 2020 alone, 39 deaths resulted from propeller-related injuries.

All in all, going overboard remains the leading type of boating emergency that causes the most fatalities.

2. Collision

a capsized boat

Collisions are responsible for 18% of fatalities. This is unsurprising, given the various potential causes such as poor weather conditions, low visibility, skipper error, and equipment failure.

Most small boat operators are inexperienced and lack basic safety education, which significantly contributes to deadly collisions. In fact, the majority of boating accident fatalities are linked to this particular drawback.

Additionally, alcohol consumption is a major factor in small boat-related deaths. In 2021 alone, 658 boating-related deaths listed the operator as driving under the influence.

3. Capsizing

causes a boat to capsize

Capsizing, both for recreational and sailboats, accounts for 9% of fatalities. Besides passengers being thrown overboard, they may also suffer traumatic injuries during the accident.

Why are small-sized watercraft more prone to capsizing? The lower weight capacity inherent to these boats makes them vulnerable to capsizing. It’s easy to overload them, leading to a potentially dangerous situation.

As evident, drowning continues to be a major cause of deaths involving small boats due to long-standing issues prevalent among recreational boat owners.

There is a clear problem with adherence to and a lack of knowledge regarding basic safety guidelines. Regrettably, smaller vessels also face a natural disadvantage, making them more susceptible to untoward events in open waterways.

4. Wave/Wake

the major cause of fatalities involving small vessels

Waves or wakes caused by boats contribute to 4% of fatalities, on par with grounding and road accidents. Both waves/wakes and grounding can cause collisions, capsizing, and passengers going overboard.

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5. Grounding

Grounding can lead to any of the three major accidents mentioned above. Moreover, it has the potential to damage parts of the boat, resulting in flooding and, consequently, drowning.

6. Road accident

Four percent of deaths are attributed to road accidents. This is not surprising, considering that 1 out of 103 people on the road dies from such incidents in the US.

7. Other causes

sailboat capsizing

Twenty-six percent of fatalities can be attributed to various other causes, including bad weather, human errors, and negligence.

For instance, boats with motor engines are at risk of fires, which can quickly become unmanageable. Rotted or moldy wood on a boat can escalate a fire, whereas burning fiberglass boats release toxic fumes.

Jumping into the water during a boat fire does not guarantee safety either. Hypothermia can occur, and if you are far from shore, swimming to safety becomes nearly impossible.

Ways to Prevent Fatalities Involving Small Boats

type of boating emergency causes the most fatalities

Thankfully, this problem can be tackled head-on through prevention. By understanding the necessary steps to reduce the chances of fatalities, boat owners can provide themselves and their passengers with significant protection and peace of mind.

  1. Bring enough life jackets aboard and encourage everyone to wear them at all times. Surprisingly, while 65% of children wear life jackets, only 12% of adults do.

  2. Continuously educate yourself, especially if you are still unfamiliar with emergency procedures. Knowledge is best when put into practice.

  3. Be aware of what to do in the event of a boat getting swamped far from shore. Remember to stay with the boat and signal for help when possible. Learn the appropriate signals and how to use necessary signaling tools.

  4. Learn how to assist others in need. When assisting a boat in distress, the primary responsibility for the vessel operator is to ensure the safety of everyone on their boat.

  5. Avoid boating during inclement weather, unless you are confident that your vessel can handle adverse conditions.

  6. Familiarize yourself with the waterways you navigate. Assess whether it is advisable to push your small vessel to its limits based on the situation and prevailing maritime and weather conditions.

  7. Never neglect regular maintenance for your boat. Regularly check the prop and engine for potential issues. Create a checklist that includes safety procedures, ensuring an ample supply of life jackets.

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To conclude, the answer to the question, “What is the major cause of fatalities involving small boats?” is drowning. Various factors contribute to the accident-prone nature of these vessels, leading to a higher fatality rate.

Boat owners are strongly encouraged to take proactive steps in mitigating these risks. Adherence to basic safety guidelines and a deeper understanding of the unique challenges faced by smaller boats can significantly improve safety on the water.

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