While many people spent much of last year in their homes, others used the break from their traditional work routines to take to the water. It’s perhaps not surprising that there was an increase in U.S. boating accidents and fatalities in 2020 over the prior year.
According to the U.S. Coast Guard, the number of accidents rose by over 26%, and fatal accidents climbed by over 25%. Here in Louisiana, the numbers were below the U.S. average but nonetheless troubling, with an 18% jump over 2019. Of those, 23 resulted in fatalities, compared to 18 fatal accidents the year before.
Reasons for the spike in accidents
Louisiana marked a five-year high in recreational boating injuries attributed to alcohol last year. More than twice as many accidents involved alcohol than in the previous year. However, only two fatalities involved alcohol.
Other primary contributing factors in the nationwide increase were:
- Operator inattention
- Operator inexperience
- Improper lookout
- Excessive speed
- Machinery failure
When inexperienced boaters get on the water, they can be a danger to everyone around them.
Most deaths were caused by drowning
By far, the most common cause of boating fatalities (75%) was drowning. The vast majority of drowning victims (86%) weren’t wearing life jackets.
One of those victims was actress Naya Rivera, best known for her role on the TV show Glee. She drowned last summer in a lake near Los Angeles while boating with her young son. After going in the water to swim, she returned him to the boat and was not seen again.
The man who rented her the boat said she had declined his offer of a life vest but that he’d put one on board anyway. Although Rivera reportedly knew how to swim, it was speculated that vertigo and/or prescription medication may have disoriented her. As one Coast Guard officer says, “It’s crucial for boaters to wear a life jacket at all times because it very likely will save your life if you enter the water unexpectedly.” He notes that they need to be “serviceable, properly sized and correctly fastened.”
A boat operator bears considerable responsibility for the safety of their passengers and for taking the necessary precautions to avoid hitting or otherwise harming others on the water. If you’ve been injured or have lost a loved one due to the actions or negligence of a boater, you have a right to seek justice and compensation.