With more than 3,000 miles of Great Lakes coastline and more than 11,000 inland lakes and waterways, it’s no wonder Michigan boaters look forward to summer. From a relaxing evening ride around the lake or a trip to the scenic Upper Peninsula, being on the water has a way of bringing peace and perspective to our hectic land lives. However, when an accident happens, a tranquil boat ride can turn deadly in a matter of seconds. To help boaters and passengers avoid perilous situations that can lead to tragedy, here is an overview of the most common causes of fatal boating accidents.
According to recent annual statistics from the U.S. Coast Guard, 4,168 reported boating accidents resulted in the deaths of 613 people while another 2,559 people were seriously injured. For 79% of the victims, drowning was the official cause of death.
Furthermore, 80% of the boaters who drowned were riding in vessels less than 21 feet long. And almost half of these fatal accidents involved open motorboats, followed by kayaks, pontoons and personal watercraft.
Compared to data from the previous year, accidents and injuries increased by 0.6% and 1.9%, respectively, while fatalities decreased by 3.2%.
Finally, these accidents caused more than $55 million dollars of property damage.
Unlike an accident on dry land, emergency medical assistance is not readily available on the water. And, if the boat operator is injured, there may not be anyone else who can summon help or drive the boat to shore.
In addition, drowning is the cause of the majority (79%) of boating accident fatalities. When someone goes into the water as the result of a crash, it is unlikely that help will arrive in time to save them.
Knowing that many of these deaths could have been prevented if the victims had worn life jackets makes the statistics even more tragic.
The U.S. Coast Guard identifies the following top 10 causes of recreational boating accidents:
Many accidents are caused by a distracted boat driver who fails to notice an oncoming vessel, sudden squall or other impending danger.
Like a distracted boat driver, a designated lookout person who is not paying attention may inadvertently cause an accident by failing to warn the operator about an obstacle or other hazard.
70% of deaths occurred on boats where the operator had not received proper boating safety instruction. In contrast, only 20% of fatal accidents involved operators who had earned nationally-approved boating safety education certificates. Operator experience was unknown in the remaining 10% of fatal accidents.
Speeding is a major cause of serious boating accidents, on the water as well as on the highway. In fact, driving a boat at high speed can be more dangerous than speeding in a car because it takes more time to stop or change direction in order to avoid a crash
Alcohol use was the major contributing factor in 23% of fatal boating accidents. Operating a boat under the influence of alcohol or drugs is dangerous in addition to being illegal. Michigan laws regarding alcohol use on boats, including a BAC limit of .08, are similar to those for automobile drivers, and similar penalties apply when the laws re violated.
Recommended reading: Boating Alcohol Laws in Michigan: What You Need to Know
A defective part or equipment malfunction can cause a serious accident. This could be caused by poor maintenance or a flaw in the design or manufacture of the vessel or equipment.
Being unfamiliar with the rules governing certain lakes and waterways can result in collisions where people are injured or killed. Navigational laws can vary, even within the same state, so it’s wise to become familiar with the rules for each destination.
Weather can change rapidly, especially in large bodies of water such as the Great Lakes. Even if the weather is fair at the beginning of a ride, boat operators should monitor weather reports throughout the trip and keep watch for changing conditions.
Sudden shifts in the current or tide can result in waters that are rough and hard to navigate, particularly for smaller boats. Therefore, operators should be extra cautious when entering areas that are known for these conditions.
When the hull of a boat moves through the water, it creates waves that are known as a wake. Depending on the size and speed of the boat, these waves can be quite strong. In addition, a wake created by a large boat can cause a smaller boat to capsize or veer into another boat.
While failing to wear a life jacket does not cause a boating accident, it increases the risk of death when an accident occurs. Sadly, approximately 86% of the people who drowned in boating accidents during a given year were not wearing life jackets. Michigan boating laws have strict requirements for life jackets. Equip your boat with the proper flotation devices and make sure everyone on board wears one before you leave shore.
Recommended reading: 5 Michigan Life Jacket Laws to Know this Summer
We understand that accidents happen, even to the most cautious boaters. If you or a loved one is injured in a boating accident, call us right away. Our experienced legal team is ready to help you receive the compensation you and your family deserve.
Boating accident law is complicated, but finding the right boating accident lawyer is simple.
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