Boating Accidents and How To Avoid Them

The summer months are the most popular time of year for people to venture out in the water, and with it brings more mishaps — especially when waterways are crowded with boaters vying for space. If you plan on boating with your family this summer, arm yourself with some important information before setting out. It is important to keep yourself, family, and friends safe from boating accidents.

Recreational boating and other similar activities like jet skiing and water skiing are wonderful ways to experience the beauty of the open water. It can be exhilarating to feel the wind in your hair and the sun on your back as you glide unencumbered through the waves. Unfortunately, a gorgeous day out on the water can easily turn into a nightmare if someone gets hurt.

Boating Accident Statistics

child wearing life jacket

In 2015, the Coast Guard recorded 4,158 boating accidents and over 600 boating accident fatalities in the United States. These accidents and deaths involved not only open motorboats, cabin motorboats, water skis and jet skis, but also canoes, kayaks, and pontoons. The type of vessel involved in the most injuries and deaths was an open motorboat, with 1,376 injuries and 285 fatalities, followed by personal watercraft such as jet skis and wave runners with 623 injuries and 33 fatalities. Many of the deaths recorded were caused by drowning and physical trauma. Interestingly, 8 out of 10 deaths occurred in smaller boats less than 21 feet long.

Pennsylvanians are certainly not immune to boating accidents. In Pennsylvania, the Coast Guard reports that there were 335 boating accidents from 2011-2015. There were 75 deaths associated with these accidents.

The number one type of accident reported by the Coast Guard was collision with another recreational vessel. Other common accidents include:

  • Collision with a fixed object such as a dock or bridge
  • Flooding/swamping (which is when a boat stays upright but fills with water)
  • Grounding, caused when a boat hits an underwater feature like a sandbar or landmass
  • Skier mishap, potentially caused by hitting the water at a bad angle

Causes of Boating Accidents

accident on water skis

It is not always possible to determine one simple cause of a boating accident. Often, as in the case with car accidents and many other types of accidents, multiple factors are involved. One main contributing factor in boating accidents is operator inattention. If an operator of a vessel is distracted or unfocused, often this can be compounded by inexperience and even alcohol use. Other common contributing factors include:

  • Improper lookout for potential danger on the water
  • Machinery failure
  • Excessive speed
  • Hazardous waters
  • Navigation rules violation
  • Weather
  • Force of wave/wake

According to, which offers boater’s education courses and certification programs for Pennsylvanians, over half of all boating-related fatalities are caused when a passenger falls overboard.

Passengers fall overboard for many reasons, such as if the captain or operator of the vehicle is inexperienced and causes a collision, or a passenger was sitting in an area not designated for seating, etc. When a person falls overboard, they are far more likely to drown if they aren’t wearing a life jacket. In fact, according to the Coast Guard’s 2015 report, 76% of boating accident fatalities with known causes were caused by drowning, and out of those 85% were not wearing a life jacket.

Boating Accidents – Prevention and Safety Tips

One way to potentially prevent boating accidents is to be sure that the person who is operating the vessel has taken a course and received a nationally approved boating safety education certificate. According to the Coast Guard report, 71% of deaths occurred on boats where the operator was not certified in boating safety (where instruction or lack thereof had been reported). As mentioned above, requiring all passengers and operators to wear a life jacket is a simple and effective way of preventing tragedy in boating accidents. Avoiding excess alcohol consumption is also important — alcohol use is the leading known contributing factor in boating fatalities.

Other safety tips:

  • Sit only in designated seating areas
  • Make sure the boat is not overloaded and is balanced with weight of passengers and gear
  • Remain seated while the boat is in motion
  • Do not allow passengers to lean over the gunwale or the side of the boat, especially on small boats which are more prone to imbalance and capsizing
  • Slow down appropriately when the boat is turning
  • Avoid going out in rough waters or inclement weather

Personal Injury Attorneys for Boating Accidents

If you or someone you love has been involved in a boating accident, you should meet with a trusted team of attorneys as soon as possible. It is best not to hesitate, as waiting will only make it more difficult to remember the facts of the accident. If the boating accident was caused by the negligence of another, you deserve to be compensated for your injuries and suffering.

The attorneys at Donaghue & Labrum have been serving the Greater Philadelphia area for over 30 years and can provide peace of mind to anyone seeking legal counsel for personal injuries. If you or your loved one has been injured in a boating accident, you need answers right away. Call Donaghue & Labrum today to set up a free consultation in one of our convenient Media or West Chester offices.