Fewer people were hurt or killed while boating last year, according to Coast Guard data, which shows drowning remains by far the most common cause of deaths among boaters.
The report, released this spring, identified 4,291 recreational boating accidents across the continental U.S., Alaska, Hawaii and Puerto Rico. From those, 658 people died and 2,629 were injured. Total property damage exceeded $45 million.
Overall, accidents decreased by about 4 percent from the previous year, while deaths fell by almost 7 percent and injuries dropped by more than 9 percent.
The vast majority of deaths where the cause was known — 76 percent overall — occurred by drowning. Some 85 percent of those victims were not wearing life jackets.
“Although these lower numbers are encouraging, I ask those who boat to continue to do so responsibly, especially by donning a life jacket,” Capt. Scott Johnson, chief of the Office of Auxiliary and Boating Safety at Coast Guard HQ, said in a statement. “Wearing a life jacket is the single most important thing you can do to save your life.”
As in previous years, sailing vessels represented a tiny fraction of boating accidents, injuries and deaths. The data show some 275 accidents involving auxiliary sailboats. The three leading causes in those cases were improper lookout, machinery failure and operator inattention, cited in 38, 40 and 52 cases, respectively.
Navigation rules violations were blamed for 27 auxiliary sailboat accidents, and 24 were attributed to operator inexperience. All told, there were six fatalities from auxiliary sailboat incidents, of which four were drownings. Forty people were hurt on these vessels overall.
Open motorboats remain the most dangerous type of vessel, with more than 1,300 injuries and 305 deaths in 2017. The second and third most dangerous boating activity, according to the data, is kayaking with 94 deaths and personal watercraft with 46.