ELLSWORTH — Recreational boating deaths in the United States dropped by nearly 4 percent last year, but more than 600 boaters died in 2018 while engaged in what is supposed to be the pursuit of fun.
Last week, the U.S. Coast Guard released its 2018 Recreational Boating Statistics Report and the news was mixed. While there were 633 boating fatalities nationwide in 2018 that represented a 3.8 percent decrease from 2017.
According to the report, overall recreational boating injuries also decreased from 2,629 in 2017 to 2,511 last year, a 4.5 percent decline, and the total number of accidents decreased 3.4 percent, from 4,291 to 4,145.
Despite the overall drop, alcohol and the failure to use life jackets continue to be leading factors in boating fatalities.
“While these decreases are encouraging, there are still too many deaths and injuries that could be avoided through the use of life jackets and eliminating alcohol consumption while operating a boat,” Captain Scott Johnson, chief of the Coast Guard’s Office of Auxiliary and Boating Safety, said in a statement that accompanied the report’s release.
Alcohol continued to be the leading known contributing factor in fatal boating accidents in 2018, accounting for 100 deaths, or 19 percent of total fatalities.
In one incident reported by the Coast Guard, two boaters died in Alabama in July 2018 when an inebriated passenger bumped into the operator, who had also been drinking. That caused the driver to swerve and crash into a bridge piling at about 25 miles per hour.
Two people were killed, including one who was struck by the boat’s propeller. The operator had a blood alcohol concentration level of 0.15, nearly twice the state’s legal limit of 0.08.
The report also shows that in 2018 the fatality rate was 5.3 deaths per 100,000 registered recreational vessels, tied as the third lowest rate since the Coast Guard began tracking fatalities. That represents a 3.6 percent decrease from 2017’s fatality rate of 5.5 deaths per 100,000 registered recreational vessels.
Property damage totaled about $46 million.
The leading accident causes, the Coast Guard said, were: operator inattention; failure to keep a proper lookout; operator inexperience; machinery failure; and excessive speed.
Where the cause of death was known, 77 percent of fatal boating accident victims drowned. Of those, when life jacket usage was reported, 84 percent of the drowning victims were not wearing a life jacket.
The report disclosed that merely having a life jacket, or personal flotation device (PFD), on board isn’t sufficient. They must be used and maintained properly.
According to the Coast Guard’s Johnson, a number of deaths involved inflatable life jackets that had expired cartridges or life jackets that were not buckled, thus making them ineffective as lifesaving devices.
Boating knowledge is also a crucial factor that contributes to recreational boating safety.
In accidents where it is known whether the operator had taken any boat safety instruction, 74 percent of deaths occurred on vessels where the operator had not.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the most common vessels involved in reported accidents were open motorboats and personal watercraft. The highest percentage of deaths occurred in accidents involving open motorboats (50 percent), kayaks (13.5 percent) and canoes (7 percent).
In Maine, the total number of recreational boating accidents has gone up over the past five years, and so have boating fatalities, though both declined in 2018 from the previous year.
In 2018, of 43 accidents, four resulted in a total of four deaths. In 2017, there were 49 recreational boating accidents of which 11 resulted in a total of 13 deaths.
In 2014, there were 35 accidents with five of them resulting in a total of five fatalities.