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Boating Accidents in Delaware: A Brief Look at the Numbers

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August 1, 2023

Every June, the United States Coast Guard (U.S.C.G.) publishes a detailed report on boating accidents in the U.S. during the previous year. It breaks down all of the recreational boating incidents across the country by location, outcome, type of watercraft, cause of accident, weather and water conditions, and other relevant factors. The report is freely available, and the U.S.C.G. encourages people to read and share it, with the hope that it will improve boater education and safety for all.

We took a look at the most recently published report, which covers boating accidents in the year 2022, to highlight relevant information for our clients and community here in Delaware. If you have any questions about boating or jet ski accidents in Delaware, or you have been injured in a boating or jet ski accident, our Morris James Boating and Jet Ski Accident attorneys can help. Contact us today for more information.

How many boating accidents happened in Delaware in 2022?

The U.S.C.G. recorded 4,040 recreational boating accidents in the U.S. in 2022. As a result of these accidents, 636 people died, 2,222 were injured, and approximately $63 million of property damage was caused. Although the total number of accidents and injuries did decrease from the previous year, the number of people killed in boating accidents in the U.S. increased in 2022 by 3.3%.

In Delaware, the total number of accidents increased from 2021 figures to 23 accidents in 2022, which was the highest number of accidents since 2018. 19 people were injured and two of these accidents resulted in deaths.

What type of vessels are most often involved in boating accidents?

There are 51,721 registered vessels in the state of Delaware. Only motorized vessels are legally required to be registered in our state, therefore this is really just a fraction of all of the non-motorized rowboats, sailboats, canoes, kayaks, SUPs, and other vessels on our waterways.

In the national numbers, the vast majority (47%) of boating accidents and deaths on the water involved open motorboats. After open motorboats, the most common vessels involved in accidents in the U.S. were personal watercraft (18%) and cabin motorboats (14%.) However, the rankings were different for fatal accidents. Kayaks were involved in a massive 14% of deaths in boating accidents in the U.S. in 2022, and 9% of fatal accidents involved personal watercraft and pontoons. It is also worth noting that operator inexperience was determined to be the most common contributing factor in kayak accidents nationwide.

Numbers of deaths by vessel type 2022

Source: USCG Recreational Boating Statistics Report 2022

What are the causes of boating accidents in Delaware?

The top 5 primary causes of recreational boating accidents in the U.S. are

  • Operator inattention
  • Operator inexperience
  • Improper lookout
  • Excessive speed
  • Machinery failure

Across the country, the most common type of boating accident by far is a collision with a recreational vessel. 1,085 out of 4,040 total accidents in 2022 were collisions with recreational vessels, which was the leading type of accident in previous years too. In Delaware, however, grounding is more common.

When are the most common times for boating accidents?

Unsurprisingly, most boating accidents in the U.S. happen on weekend afternoons in the Summer. This is prime time for enjoying the water in Delaware and elsewhere, but it highlights the importance of being alert and safe on the water even when relaxing.

973 of a total 4,040 accidents in the U.S. happened in the month of July, while only 66 were reported in December. Over 30% of accidents (1,272 accidents) happened on a Saturday. Sunday also saw a lot of incidents (905 accidents) but significantly, and perhaps surprisingly, less than Saturdays. Afternoons and early evenings were clearly the more likely time for an accident, with over half of all boating accidents across the country reported between 12:31p.m. and 6:30p.m.

Are weather and wind conditions a significant factor in boating accidents?

Many people think of boating accidents as occurring as a result of rough or unexpected weather and water conditions - a pop-up storm, a rip tide, or high winds. The U.S.C.G. report reveals that this is not true. The vast majority of recreational boating accidents and boating injuries in the U.S. in 2022 happened in calm waters, with only light wind, and good visibility. 

Almost 60% of all accidents (2,423 accidents) happened in waters with waves less than 6 inches, while only 69 boat accidents happened in very rough waters (waves larger than 6 feet.) Over 70% of boating accidents (2,947 accidents) happened during the day when visibility was good. And 2,265 of all 4,040 accidents in the U.S. in 2022 occurred in winds of less than 6 m.p.h. When boating or jet skiing, you should never underestimate the risks inherent in operating a boat or being out on the water, even in calm conditions.

Four major things to learn from this report

The U.S.C.G. report is not only an interesting round-up of statistics. It teaches us a lot about the real dangers of water and how we can better protect ourselves as water users. Here are four major takeaways:

  1. Take a Boating Safety Course 

We always recommend that you take a boating safety course before getting out on the water. Delaware law mandates that anyone born on or after January 1, 1978, successfully completes a boating safety course before operating a motorized boat, including personal watercraft, on Delaware waters.

Nationwide statistics strongly reinforce the need for boating education. 74% of all deaths in boating accidents happened where the operator of the vessel had not received any boating safety instructions. Where the operator of the boat had received a nationally-approved boating safety education certificate, that was reduced to only 14%.

Percent of deaths known operator instruction, 2022

Source: USCG Recreational Boating Statistics Report 2022

2. Don’t Drink and Boat

Alcohol is the single biggest contributing factor in fatal boating accidents in the United States. It is a contributing factor in 16% of all boating accidents nationwide. Boating and operating a boat or jetski has inherent risks. Like driving a vehicle on the roads, it requires attention, skill, and coordination, and it should not be done while under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or while at risk of distraction by drunk passengers. Also, if you are involved in a boating accident and you have been drinking, there is a higher risk that you will be found wholly or partly at fault in the accident. This could make you legally and financially liable for someone else’s injuries and damage, or reduce the amount of compensation that you are entitled to for your injuries.

Until last year, we had not seen any fatal boating accidents caused by alcohol in Delaware since at least 2018. Sadly, in 2022, 4 accidents, 3 injuries, and 2 deaths were reported in alcohol-related boating accidents on our state.

3. Wear A Lifejacket

A lifejacket or P.F.D. (Personal Flotation Device) is essential if you are on the water, and it is useless if it is packed up in storage on your boat rather than being on your body. Wearing a U.S.C.G. approved life jacket at all times while on the water can be the difference between life and death.

In 2022, where cause of death was known, 75% of fatal boating accident victims died by drowning, and 85% of drowning victims were not wearing a life jacket.

4. Stay Alert

Operator inattention was the leading cause of boating accidents and boating accident injuries in the U.S. in 2022, closely followed by operator inexperience. If you are operating a boat or jetski on Delaware waterways, you must pay attention to the environment, signs, conditions, and other water-users. If you are negligent in your operation of a boat or jetski, you could injure yourself or other people, and be held legally liable for the accident. 

What should you do if you are involved in a boating or jet ski accident

If you are involved in a boating accident, you should know what to do to protect yourself and other people. You can read more detailed advice from our boating accident attorneys here, but remember these six steps:

  • Get to safety
  • Call 911 or VHF marine radio, Channel 16 for help
  • Record videos, photos, and other evidence 
  • Report the accident to the authorities
  • Notify your insurance company

If you are involved in a boating or jet ski accident, you may have significant injuries or property damage. In many boating accidents, there are also other people and vessels involved, who may try to hold you liable for their damages. It is important that you understand your rights and obligations after a boating accident so that you can take action to protect yourself and your right to insurance proceeds or compensation.

At Morris James, our attorneys have been standing up for victims since we opened our doors in 1932. If you have other questions about boating accidents, you may find answers in our Boating and Jet Ski Accident FAQs, or you can contact us online, in one of our local Delaware offices, or call us at 302.655.2599 to learn more.

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