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The 2011 Recreational Boating Statistics from the United States Coast Guard reveal there was a decrease in accidents, but an increase in deaths. In 2011, there were a total of 4588 recreational boating accidents which 758 fatalities and 3,081 injuries. The property damage amount from these accidents totaled approximately $52 million.

In 2010, there were 4604 accident, with 672 fatalities and 3153 injuries, showing a decrease of 0.35 percent in accidents, a 2.3 percent in injuries, but a 12.8 percent increase in fatalities.

Seventy percent of the fatalities were drowning victims and 84 percent of those people who drowned were not wearing life jackets. Only 11 percent of the deaths occurred on boats where the operator had received boating safety instruction and just seven percent of deaths occurred on boats where the operator had received boating safety instruction from a NASBLA-approved course provider. (The National Association of State Boating Law Administrators (NASBLA) is national nonprofit organization that works to develop public policy for recreational boating safety.)

Eight out of every ten people who drowned were in boats less than 21 feet long. Almost half of the reported accidents occurred in open motorboats (47 percent). Personal watercrafts accounted for 19 percent and cabin motorboats for 14 percent.

July was the month with the most accidents and the most fatalities – 1215 accidents, 1090 injuries, 142 deaths. But it was actually December that had the highest percentage of accident fatalities – 83 accidents, with 22 deaths. The time of day when most accidents occurred and also the highest percentage of fatal accidents was between 2:30 p.m. and 4:30 p.m.

Operator inattention, improper lookout, operator inexperience, excessive speed and machinery failure rank as the top five primary contributing factors in accidents. The leading cause of accident fatalities was alcohol – 125 people died in boating accidents caused by the operator being under the influence.

One tragic story of the deadly consequences of boating and alcohol occurred on Petite Lake, near Lake Villa, IL. Last July, a ten year-old boy and his 12 year-old sister were riding on a tube being towed by a boat their father was driving. Waves caused the boy to fall off the tube and into the lake. The children’s father turned the boat around to pick him up, but a 29-foot Baja speed boat was driving right towards the young boy and the driver ignored attempts from the boy’s older siblings to get his attention to stop. Instead, the man kept on driving and plowed his boat into the boy, killing him.

The Chicago Tribune reported blood samples showed the 50 year-old driver had taken cocaine just hours before the accident and that his blood alcohol content was between .09 percent and .128 percent at the time of the crash. Witnesses told police that before the accident, he had been speeding his boat on the lake and had almost caused several accidents with his reckless driving.

It’s accidents like these that are completely preventable, and should never occur. Hopefully, with more awareness and stringent boating laws, including boating licensure laws and penalties for boating while intoxicated, we can help to make sure these things never happen.

About the Editors: Our personal injury law firm has offices in Virginia (VA) and North Carolina (NC). The attorneys with the firm publish and edit articles on three Legal Examiner sites for the geographic areas of Virginia Beach, Norfolk and Northeast North Carolina as a pro bono service to the general public.

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