The U.S. Coast Guard has released its recreational boating statistics report for 2018, which revealed that while there was a 3.8% nationwide decrease in fatalities, the rate of both accidents and fatalities in Alaska appear to be rising, according to a press release from the Coast Guard.
In 2018, there were 4,145 total accidents nationwide, resulting in 2,511 injuries and 633 fatalities.
The fatality rate was 5.3 deaths for every 100,000 accidents with registered recreational vessels. Last year, the rate was 5.5 deaths per every 100,000 accidents.
The top five causes of accidents were identified as operator inattention, improper lookout, machinery failure, operator inexperience or excessive speeds, stated the release.
Alcohol was identified as the leading factor in fatal boating accidents, and was recorded as being the cause of 19% of total fatalities.
“These decreases are encouraging, but 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,” said Capt. Scott Johnson of the Office of Auxiliary and Boating Safety at Coast Guard Headquarters.
The release cited a July 2018 accident in Alabama where a vessel crashed into a bridge after an intoxicated passenger caused the vessel's operator – who also was intoxicated – to swerve rapidly.
“This was just one tragedy that could have been prevented by removing alcohol from the day's activities,” Johnson said. “Anyone who's spent long periods of time out on the water knows that alcohol consumption, when combined with fatigue from sun and wind exposure, will severely hinder a person's ability to make good decisions and maintain awareness of their surroundings.”
“It is heartbreaking to realize that more than 100 people could still be alive today had alcohol use been curbed,” Johnson said.
In 2018, there were 22 recorded accidents in Alaska, 17 of which resulted in the fatality of a total of 22 individuals.
The number of accidents, fatal accidents and fatalities increased from the previous year. In 2017, there were 15 total accidents, 13 fatal accidents and 20 fatalities, the report stated.
Alaska made up 3.5% of the nationwide fatality rate, which is a 5% increase from 2017. On a map included in the report, Alaska was identified as an area where the number of accidents was “equal to or greater than 10 deaths per 100,000 recreational accidents.”
Oregon, Montana, Idaho, Nevada and Utah were also identified as areas within these boundaries.
The report also identified that in 84% of boating accidents in which a victim died by drowning, they were not wearing a life jacket. Additionally, 74% of accidents occurred on a vessel where the operator did not have training in boat safety.
“We thank our boating safety partners for their efforts,” Johnson said. “Together we strive to reduce loss of life, injuries and property damage by improving the knowledge, skill and abilities of recreational boaters.”
For more information about responsible boating, visit www.uscgboating.org.