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HomeNL-2014-06 USCG Boating Safety

USCG Boating Safety Report
May, 2014
John Rich

The U.S. Coast Guard has published their annual boating accident statistics report, and I wish to highlight here the portions relevant to canoeing and kayaking.  I do so in the desire to raise awareness of those things which can enhance our safety on the water.  There is a ton of data here, and much of the report deals with motorboats which make up a majority of watercraft.  But there is a breakout of the data by type of boat to include canoes and kayaks, so there are still lessons to be learned.  I'll simply cut-and-paste portions here for your viewing, with a comment thrown in here and there.

Executive Summary items:
  • In 2013, the Coast Guard counted 4,062 accidents that involved 560 deaths and 2,620 injuries.
  • Where cause of death was known, seventy-seven (77) percent of fatal boating accident victims drowned. Of those drowning victims with reported life jacket usage, eighty-four (84) percent were not wearing a life jacket. 
  • Operator inattention, improper lookout, operator inexperience, excessive speed, and machinery failure rank as the top five primary contributing factors in accidents. 
  • Alcohol use is the leading known contributing factor in fatal boating accidents; where the primary cause was known, it was listed as the leading factor in 16% of deaths. 

In this next chart, I've highlighted the causes of accidents I think most likely to occur with canoes & kayaks.

The next chart is the number of accidents and fatalities by type of boat and contributing factor:  I have highlighted the columns for canoe and kayaks, and the largest causes of fatalities.

What I found interesting here is that the causes of accidents for both canoes and kayaks are nearly identical, except for one category of cause: Improper loading.  There were 11 fatal accidents in canoes caused by improper loading, and zero for kayaks.  Why is that?  Is it the closed cockpit nature of kayaks which encourages a low center of gravity and and small storage spaces which makes overloading difficult, compared to open canoes?

This chart makes it look like having an unpowered boat is more likely to lead to a fatality compared to a powered boat:

Turn your head sideways again. I've highlighted the largest categories for paddle boats.  What I find interesting here is that kayaks have three times as many "falls overboard" compared to canoes, while canoes have three times as many "flooding/swamping" as kayaks.

The benefits of wearing your PFD.  What I find mysterious here is the disparity between canoes and kayaks.  Of all the canoe fatalities, 85% of the victims were not wearing a PFD.  While with kayaks that percentage is much lower at 53%.  Are kayakers more likely to wear life vests than canoeists?  And look at how many more kayakers still drowned despite wearing a PFD - would that be because kayakers are more likely to paddle in serious whitewater, where even a PFD might not save you?

The overall safety trend is going in the correct direction.  There must have been chaos and mayhem on the water 20 years ago! But while the number of accidents has been cut in half, the fatality rate has declined only slightly...

Those were my highlights as I see them relating to canoeing and kayaking.  And there is a lot to think about here.  If you wish to see the complete Coast Guard report for yourself, in an 8-megabyte pdf file, click here.

The author, John Rich