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Fatal boating accident statistics

Every year, the U.S. Coast Guard gathers data regarding fatal recreational boating accidents from throughout the United States, its territories and its waterways. According to this information, in 2016, there were 4,463 accidents leading to 701 deaths. New York saw 3.1 percent of the total recreational boating fatalities. In the state, there were 188 accidents, the highest number since 2012. 

The American Boating Association points out that reports for U.S. boating accidents in 2016 did not always contain all of the data requested, so some percentages do not provide a complete picture. However, of the fatalities where the cause was known, 80 percent involved drowning, and 83 percent of the people who drowned were not wearing life jackets. 

The data indicates that many of the accidents could have been prevented by the boat operator. For example, 77 percent of the fatalities occurred on a boat with an operator who did not receive any formal boating instruction. Other preventable contributing factors involving boat operators include the following:

  • Inattention
  • Inexperience
  • Improper lookout
  • Excessive speed

In 15 percent of the fatalities with a known cause, alcohol was involved in the accidents. Machinery failure is also among the top causes of accidents.

There were 11,861,811 registered recreational vessels in the U.S. in 2016. Open motorboats had the highest percentage of accidents and the highest number of fatalities, at 47 percent of the total of both numbers. Twenty-four people who died were struck by a propeller, and 175 more were injured by a propeller. Kayaks and canoes accounted for 22 percent of the deaths. Vessels under 21 feet long were in use by eight out of 10 of those who drowned. 

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