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US Coast Guard Releases 2020 Boating Safety Statistics

We all know what an odd year 2020 was, and even though we’re now halfway through 2021, the year to be remembered is still with us in many ways. Ordinarily it wouldn’t be remarkable to be posting a story about the previous year’s US Coast Guard boating safety statistics, but this time it just feels a little more, “Oh, but of course; it was 2020 after all.”

According to the report, there were “767 boating fatalities nationwide in 2020, which is a 25.1 percent increase from 2019. The total number of accidents increased 26.3 percent (4,168 to 5,265), and the number of non-fatal injured victims increased 24.7 percent (2,559 to 3,191).”

The report states there is evidence that boating activity increased significantly during the pandemic — this was based on “reports of increased boat sales, insurance policies taken out, insurance claims, and calls for towing assistance.” We certainly noticed the increase of boat sales. Yacht brokers and boatyards talked about the increase in business throughout 2020. Of course we all know sailing is a good pastime, and when everyone had a lot of time on their hands, it made sense to use it on the water. But of course this also translates into an increase in risk. Accordingly there were a number of cases where “boaters had recently purchased the vessel involved in the incident, but had not taken many of the proper safety precautions before getting underway.”

Whether you’re on a lake, a bay, a river or an ocean, safety is always paramount.
© 2021 USCG

The report further states that alcohol continued to be the leading known contributing factor in fatal boating accidents in 2020. Alcohol was directly implicated in over “100 deaths, or 18 percent of total fatalities.”

Aside from deaths, the USCG noted that property damage totaled around $62.5 million, and that “operator inattention, operator inexperience, improper lookout, excessive speed, and machinery failure ranked as the top five primary contributing factors in accidents.”

A large factor in the cases of drowning, which accounted for 75 percent of the fatalities, was that 86 percent of the victims were not wearing a life jacket.

US Coast Guard Boating Safety
Life jackets are a must when heading out on the water.
© 2021 USCG

And in cases in which the level of boating instruction was known, “77 percent of deaths occurred on vessels where the operator had not received boating safety instruction.”

That said, the report also states that most of the reported accidents involved “open motorboats, personal watercraft, and cabin motorboats.” And where the vessel type was known, the highest percentage of deaths involved “open motorboats (50 percent), kayaks (15 percent), and pontoons (9 percent).”

These are of course overall statistics for the nation as a whole. Individual regions will each have their own statistics, which may or may not vary from the national figures. But it does remind us to be diligent when planning, preparing for, and engaging in sailing. We love to have a good time on the water, and summer is not over yet, so let’s do our best to help make next year’s USCG boating safety statistics show a decrease in boating accidents and fatalities.

If you would like to read the full report, along with the previous 16 years’ reports, you can do so here.

1 Comment

  1. Peter Detwiler 3 years ago

    Thanks to the USCG for compiling this useful annual report. If you follow the provided link and look deeper into the actual report, there were very few accidents and deaths associated with sailboats in 2020; about 1% of total boating deaths. Sadly, some were kids and younger adults. Alcohol was not a major factor in sailboat accidents. But let’s all be safe out there, OK?

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