Maritime Injury: The Basics

Maritime accidents account for over 759 boating fatalities a year according to the National Safe Boating Council. Maritime accidents consist of any accident that occur on a watercraft, on a dock, in the participation in water sports, on offshore drilling rigs, on cruise ships, and any accident that occurs on any waterway, sea, or any marine related incident.

The Research and Innovative Technology Administration (RITA) and the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) commissioned a national transportation statistics study of watercraft safety. The study considered types of accidents, types of watercraft, and the casualties that resulted from these accidents during the one-year observation period.

According to one report, the Waterborne Transportation Safety and Property Damage Data Related to Vessel Casualties, there were 6,193 vessels involved maritime accidents that resulted in:

  • 4,901 Maritime Accidents
  • 61 Fatalities
  • 155 Injuries
  • $811 Million in Property Damage

Another report, Personal Watercraft Safety Data, also conducted as part of the RITA and DOT study concluded that personal watercraft accounted for:

  • 1,631 Accidents
  • 68 Fatalities
  • 919 Injuries

Personal watercrafts are any marine vessel that are less than thirteen feet in length and are intended to be operated by one person or a couple of persons. The operators of a personal watercraft should be sitting, standing, or kneeling on the vessel as opposed to having their body inside the confines of a vessel's hull.

The U.S. Coast Guard Search and Rescue Statistics conducted a one-year study of reported maritime emergencies cases responded to by the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG). The study concluded that the USCG responded to 27,092 cases that resulted in 795 fatalities and $121.7 million in lost property and property damage. According to the USCG, out of 476 drowning deaths 427 were not wearing their life jackets. The USCG emphasis the importance of wearing lifejackets at all times when on any watercraft.

Recreational Watercraft Accidents

The Office of Auxiliary and Boating Safety gathers statistics on reported recreational boating accidents for the USCG. The information is compiled from maritime accident reports filed by owners and/or operators of recreational watercraft that have been involved in maritime accidents. The office gathers information from the fifty states, five U.S. territories, and the District of Columbia.

According to the annual Recreational Boating Statistics publication:

  • More than 66% of deaths in boating accidents are due to drowning
  • 90% of drowning victims were not wearing a life jacket
  • 75% of drowning victims were using vessels less than 21 feet long
  • The top contributing factor in fatal boating accidents is alcohol consumption
  • 21% of the deaths in boating accident are attributed to the use of alcohol
  • An average of 22 children age 12 or under die annually in boating accidents
  • 50% of children that die in boating accidents die from drowning
  • There are close 13 million personal watercraft registered in the U.S.
  • An average of 103 people die in canoe or kayak accidents annually
  • 14% of deaths occurred on watercraft where the operator had received boating safety instructions

The study also exposed the top five primary contributing factors in recreational watercraft accidents each year, they include:

  • Operator inattention - 628 Accidents/47 Deaths/436 Injuries
  • Careless or reckless operation - 552 Accidents/33 Deaths/445 Injuries
  • Passenger or skier behavior - 492 Accidents/47 Deaths/458 Injuries
  • Excessive speed - 473 Accidents/31 Deaths/425 Injuries
  • Alcohol use - 391 Accidents/145 Deaths/341 Injuries

The most common types of recreational watercraft involved in reported maritime accidents were:

  • Open motorboats (44%)
  • Personal watercraft (24%)
  • Cabin motorboats (15%)

Most Common Types of Maritime Accidents

The USCG report outlined the top five most common maritime accidents. The most common accidents are watercraft collision with another marine vessel. There are 1,329 vessel-to-vessel collisions annually; they are responsible for 66 deaths and 953 injuries. The second most common maritime accident is collisions with fixed objects. There are 558 of these collisions yearly; they are responsible for 35 deaths and 389 injuries. The third most common accident is skier mishap. There are 492 skier mishaps per year; they are responsible for 11 deaths and 502 injuries. The fourth most common boating accident is when a boater falls overboard. There are 485 overboard falls annually; they are responsible for 208 deaths and 312 injuries. The fifth most common marine accident is capsizing. There are 398 capsizing a year; they are responsible for 204 deaths and 284 injuries.

Recreational Watercraft Responsible For the Most Casualties

The Office of Auxiliary and Boating Safety report outlined the most dangerous recreation watercraft by total number of deaths and injuries. Open motorboats were ranked as the deadliest recreational watercraft, they accounted for 230 deaths by drowning, 104 deaths due to other factors, and 1,886 injuries a year. Personal watercraft came in as the second-deadliest vessels, they accounted for 14 deaths by drowning, 53 deaths due to other factors, and 982 injuries annually. Cabin motorboats were the third-deadliest watercraft, they accounted for 33 deaths by drowning, 20 deaths due to other factors, and 283 injuries per year. Canoes and Kayaks came in as the fourth-deadliest recreational watercraft, they accounted for 97 deaths by drowning, 10 deaths due to other factors, and 93 injuries a year. Pontoon boats came in as the fifth-deadliest recreational water vessels, they accounted for 12 deaths by drowning, 3 deaths due to other factors, and 112 injuries annually.

The top five deadliest watercraft according to the USCG include:

  • Open Motorboats 2,220 Total Casualties
  • Personal Watercraft 1,049 Total Casualties
  • Cabin Motorboats 336 Total Casualties
  • Canoes/Kayaks 200 Total Casualties
  • Pontoon Boats 127 Total Casualties

Accidents by Body of Water

The study also looked at the bodies of water where most of these accidents occur. Surprisingly the study found that a majority of maritime accidents occur in lakes, ponds, reservoirs, dams, and gravel pits. These places account 2,409 accidents, 327 deaths, and 1,801 injuries annually. The second highest occurrences of maritime casualties occur in rivers, streams, and creeks. These waterways report 1,088 accidents, 140 deaths, and 832 injuries each year. The third highest rates of nautical accidents happen in bays, inlets, sounds, and harbors. These marine sanctuaries are witness to 657 accidents, 62 deaths, and 394 injuries per year. The fourth deadliest is the open water of oceans and gulfs. The open water accounts for 265 accidents, 38 deaths, and 136 injuries per year. The great lakes are in fifth place of deadliest marine environments. These inland seas observe 106 accidents, 20 deaths, and 50 injuries yearly.

  • If you have been injured while on a boat or personal watercraft, you should speak to a maritime attorney that specializes in maritime accidents.
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