Alaska’s numbers went down in 2019 — and that’s a good thing.

We refer to U.S. Coast Guard’s Recreational Boating Statistics report for 2019, which shows that Alaska’s total number of recreational boating accidents, fatal accidents and deaths were all lower than they were in 2018. And, all were less than the five-year average.

Fourteen recreational boating accidents were recorded in Alaska during 2019, according to the report. That’s down from 22 in 2018, and lower than the 5-year average of 20.4 accidents per year.

Of those 14 accidents in 2019, eight involved fatalities. Again, that’s down from 17 fatal accidents in 2018, and below the 5-year average of 11.8.

The eight fatal accidents in 2019 resulted in 11 deaths — half the number of the 22 fatalities recorded in Alaska during 2018. The 5-year average for Alaska is 15.8 fatalities.

Ten of those 11 Alaska fatalities related to recreational boating in 2019 were attributed to drowning, according to the report, which did not give the cause for the one other death.

Alaska was not able to avoid tragedy on the water this past year, but the declines shown in the above statistics are encouraging. Many Alaskans, including residents of Ketchikan, Annette Island and Prince of Wales Island, enjoy spending a lot ot time on the water. We’re hoping that the improved statistics indicate that Alaskans are making the effort to stay safe out there.

So, what types of accidents occurred in 2019. Four of the 14 accidents involved flooding or swamping. Three involved striking either a floating, fixed or submerged object. Two involved capsizing. Grounding, collision with another recreational vessel, fall overboard, and “departed vessel” accounted for one accident apiece. Two accidents were listed in the “other” category.

Across the country, the Coast Guard recorded 4,168 recreational boating deaths in 2019. The accidents resulted in 613 deaths, nearly 2,600 injuries and about $55 million in property damage, according to the report.

There are a couple of pertinent statistics to note as the recreational boating season gets fully underway here in southern Southeast Alaska.

In fatal accidents where the cause of deaths have been determined, a full 79% of fatal accident victims drowned. And of those individuals who drowned, 86% were not wearing a life jacket. It really makes a lot of sense to find a comfortable personal flotation device and actually wear it while boating.

According to the Coast Guard report, the top five primary contributing factors in accidents during 2019 were operator inattention, improper lookout, operator inexperience, excessive speed and alcohol use. Of those, alcohol use was the leading contributing factor in fatal boating accidents in which the primary cause was known. This suggests that consuming alcohol while boating isn’t the wisest choice.

This area of Alaska truly is one of the most magnificent places on earth to explore by water — but that water can be unforgiving.

Boaters who take the time to learn the area, their boating equipment, navigation skills and appropriate safety measures are more likely to enjoy the voyage and return home safely. Let’s keep the 2020 statistics low.