Recreational boat operators in the United States could greatly reduce the number of boating-related deaths simply by taking a safety course, according to an article in the Summer 2009 issue of Wilderness Medicine magazine.
Recreational boaters without safety training pose the greatest threat to themselves, their passengers, and other boaters, according to Michael Jacobs, MD, author of “Improving Safety at Sea: A Look at Accidents and Fatalities.”
“Most recreational boating accidents and fatalities in the U.S. do not occur on storm-swept waters; they happen close to home in excellent weather,” writes Jacobs, who notes that recreational boaters spend most of their time on inland waters or coastal areas. There are 13 million registered boats in the United States.
In the article, Jacobs says there were 685 recreational boating fatalities in 2007, according to the U.S. Coast Guard, and cites these statistics:
• Capsizing and falls overboard make up more than half of all deaths.
• Three-fourths of the deaths occurred on smaller boats shorter than 21 feet.
• Two-thirds of the victims drowned, and 90% of them were not wearing personal flotation devices (PFDs), although federal law requires a PFD for every person aboard a boat (Jacobs also notes that most drownings occur on boats without any PFDs).
• The boat operator had control over factors involved in 75% of these accidents.
Collisions are the most common type of deadly accident, Jacobs notes, and two-thirds of boating deaths involve open motorboats that are less than 26 feet long or personal watercraft.
“Inattentive, inexperienced boat operators, operating in a careless and reckless manner at unsafe speeds, without proper lookout, cause most of the fatalities and injuries,” Jacobs writes.
Eighty-five percent of the deaths occurred on boats where the operator had no safety training, he says. Alcohol was responsible for 25% of the fatalities and is a greater risk factor for adolescents involved in water accidents or drownings.
“Safe boating courses could change these statistics, but only if boaters attend them, and accept more responsibility for the safety of themselves and others,” Jacobs writes.
Wilderness Medicine is the official quarterly magazine of the Wilderness Medical Society and is dedicated to providing a timely forum for the exchange of ideas and knowledge regarding wilderness medicine and the Society. Since 1984 the magazine has published articles on all aspects of wilderness medicine.
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