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Common Causes of Boating Accidents

May 20, 2024

It may be no major surprise that drowning is the cause of death in three-quarters of boating-related fatalities.

But wearing the correct fitting life jacket properly and riding with a boat operator who’s completed an accredited boater safety education program reduces the risk of recreational boating accidents and drowning. Where instruction was known, 74% of deaths happened on boats where the operator didn’t take a boating safety class.

In addition, statistics from 2022 show that the top five contributing factors in boating accidents were:

  • Operator inattention;
  • Improper lookout;
  • Operator inexperience;
  • Excessive speed; and
  • Boat motor failure.

Here in Michigan, one death was recorded for every 4.9 boating accidents in the latest information from the U.S. Department of Transportation. That’s a lot of deaths and boating accidents that can be avoided. Let’s look at the top situations to avoid:

Running Out of Gas: This can be a minor inconvenience on a small body of water like Reeds Lake in East Grand Rapids, but the situation can be dire if you’re out on Lake Michigan. Do your calculations and make sure to gas up.

Falling Overboard: In many situations falling overboard can be a silly misstep. But if you fail to wear a properly fitting life jacket and are knocked unconscious, you may not float face up. And if you’re boating alone, the situation can be very serious because your watercraft may keep going without you.

Lacking Proper Safety Gear: As mentioned above, life jackets can be lifesavers. Too many Michigan boaters ignore the safety equipment that’s on (or should be on) their craft. The U.S. Coast Guard reports that 50% of drowning fatalities involve boaters who didn’t wear a life jacket. And remember that that water in our lakes and rivers isn’t always 70 degrees. If you’re stranded in 50-degree water, there are only minutes before you lose your ability to coordinate your movement and you muscles fail you.

Ignoring Bad Weather: Your smartphone can supply you with up-to-date forecasts and conditions, provided you have coverage. But don’t leave the dock if weather conditions are questionable. If you do go out, at the first sign of trouble, make sure your life jacket is buckled, or put it on before you go out on the water.

Speeding At Night: A significant cause of boating accidents is failing to match your speed with the conditions or setting. At night you can’t always trust your senses to determine a clear path. (Maybe another boat’s gone dark.) A corollary to this is failing to be observant or to keep a watchful eye.

Stay Sober: Another thing to avoid is alcohol when boating. It slows your reflexes and clouds judgment, both of which can contribute to an accident. In addition, you can be convicted of Boating Under the Influence (BUI) if your BAC limit is .08 or above, and you’re operating a boat or personal watercraft. The penalties for a conviction are similar to a DUI conviction: jail time, fines, and suspension of your driver’s license.

Contact Us

For a free consultation with an experienced boat accident attorney in Grand Rapids, contact Buchanan Firm. Our firm proudly serves people all across Michigan, including major cities like Grand Rapids and Detroit, and rural towns such as Lowell, Ada, Fremont, Newaygo, Grand Haven, Rockford, and Cedar Springs.