The real facts on recreational boat safety

Published 12:00 am Sunday, May 11, 2003

The 2003 North American National Safe Boating Week starts in less than six days. This year’s event is designed to raise awareness among recreational boaters, both sail and power, of two critical factors. First, that drowning is the number one cause of boating fatalities. In fact, in 2001, 681 boaters died on the water. Nearly 80 percent were not wearing their life jackets.

The second goal is to reinforce to the boating public that wearing a life jacket while boating is the best way to avoid these very-preventable deaths. Boaters will find that the new life jackets on the market today are lighter, more flexible, and more comfortable, making them easier than ever to wear.

Last week this column looked at some general ways that a recreational boater can use the information which is being distributed during National Safe Boating Week to make their experience on the water both safer and more enjoyable.

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This week I want to look at some very specific numbers that reinforce how important following some simple guidelines can be. These numbers paint some disturbing figures. Even with a concentrated effort by stakeholders, at all levels, people still die or are seriously injured. Unfortunately people also die or are seriously injured doing everything from skiing to sky diving to even playing flag football. There are things however a prudent boater can do to reduce the chance of injury.

The fact that these numbers point to some serious issues is even more important for Virginians. Currently this state ranks 8th in the country in total boating fatalities. (Please keep in mind this information comes from the 2001 Boating Safety Fact Sheet.)

So let’s look at some numbers. Where appropriate I’ve added some additional information. How many boating fatalities were there? 681!

Does that number disturb you? It should. What is even more disturbing is that out of that number 80 percent had not completed any time (federal, state or local) boating

safety course. Here is another statistic that will disturb you – 26 children all under the age of 12 lost their lives while recreational boating during the same period.

How many recreational boaters drowned? 498

Injuries (person requiring medical treatment beyond first aid): 4,274

Boating accidents: 6,419

Capsizing and falls overboard occurred in 60% of all reported fatalities.

Total damage caused to property: $31,307,448.00

Of all the events that caused damage, &uot;collision with another vessel&uot; was the most commonly reported accident, which resulted in nearly one-quarter of the damage reported above.

Number of vessels involved in accidents: 8,974

According to the latest Coast Guard figures there are 12,876,346 recreational boats in the United States and its’ territories. Florida leads all states in boating accidents, followed closely by California and Michigan.

Recreational boaters do more to make their experience safer. Until next week, Boat Safe … and Boat Smart!

LCDR Joe DiRenzo III is a resident of Suffolk and a regular News-Herald columnist.