US Coast Guard reports boating safety figure improvements in 2021 despite historic growth in new boat ownership; WSF credits increased safety course enrollment
By the Water Sports Foundation
The U.S. Coast Guard’s latest 2021 Recreational Boating Statistics Report revealed boating safety improved with a 15.4% drop in the fatality rate per 100,000 registered vessels since 2020, while incidents decreased by 15.7% to 4,439; total fatalities decreased by 14.2% to 658; and total injuries decreased by 17.2% to 2,641.
Perhaps of greatest interest, these improved metrics emerged as boating sales and boating participation figures reached historic high-water marks among first-time boat owners, including the 830,000 who purchased during the 2020 and 2021 pandemic.
"At the beginning of the pandemic, sales were increasing, but in-person safety courses had to be discontinued for obvious reasons," Emmons said. "However, most every boating safety course provider pivoted quickly and began offering their courses online utilizing virtual education technology. Many of the course providers shared with me directly that, after they offered their courses online, they saw an attendance spike in their enrollments."
Emmons points out the U.S. Coast Guard data shows the overwhelming majority of fatalities occurred on boats where the operator had not received boating safety instruction. Where boating safety instruction was known, 75% of fatalities occurred on boats in which the operator did not receive boating safety instruction. Only 16% of fatalities occurred on vessels where the operator had received a nationally approved boating safety education certificate.
“The importance of boating safety and education is clearly validated by this year’s report,” Emmons said. “It has a real impact when it comes to reducing incidents and fatalities.”
A few more key insights: 81% of fatal boating incident victims drowned. Of those drowning victims with reported life jacket usage, 83% were not wearing a life jacket. In addition, the report identified alcohol as the leading known contributing factor in fatal boating incidents, and the leading factor in 16% of deaths.
“Boating is one of the safest forms of recreation out there, but the data reconfirms to me that deaths associated with not wearing a life jacket and alcohol are among the most preventable,” said Paul Barnard, recreational boating safety program specialist, U.S. Coast Guard Eighth District. “It gives us a great sense of urgency to educate boaters and give them the knowledge and skills they need to stay safe.”
Operator inattention, operator inexperience, improper lookout, machinery failure, and excessive speed ranked as the top five primary contributing factors in all incidents. Where data was known, the vessel types with the highest percentage of deaths were open motorboats (44%), kayaks (15%) and pontoons (15%).
Headquartered in Orlando, the Water Sports Foundation (WSF) is the nonprofit educational arm of the Water Sports Industry Association (WSIA.net). The WSF National Public Relations Outreach, including this press release, is produced under a grant from the Sport Fish Restoration and Boating Trust Fund, administered by the U.S. Coast Guard.