Which is the Major Cause of Fatalities Involving Small Boats?

9 Oct 2023

Suppose you've been working in the marine sector for some time. In that case, you undoubtedly already know that during the epidemic, the number of people interested in boat ownership increased.

Fortuitously, along with this rise came a devastating consequence: the number of deaths that occurred on boats increased by more than 25% compared to 2019.

Eighty percent of that occurred in 2020 were associated with small recreational vessels (21 feet or less in length). This, of course, begs the question, "Which is the primary factor that contributes to fatalities involving small boats?"

It should come as no surprise that drowning is the root cause of the problem, with going overboard, crashes or capsizing being the most common contributing factors.

The following is a rundown of the top five most common factors that lead to death:

Cause of Boating Fatalities:

Here are some reasons for boating fatalities. Let's have a look

  1. Operator Error:

    Operator error is one of the leading contributors to fatalities that occur on boats. Boat operators' lack of experience or recklessness, who either need to adhere to the appropriate safety measures or dangerously drive their vessels, is the root cause of many boating accidents.

    For instance, operators who drive at excessive speeds, make sharp bends, or ignore their surroundings are all potential causes of severe accidents.

    In addition, operators distracted on the water by their phones, music, or other passengers can threaten the safety of those around them.

    Boaters must attend a boating safety course to acquire the knowledge necessary to operate their vessel correctly and reduce the risk of an accident.

  2. Alcohol and Drug Use:

    It is unlawful to operate a boat while under the influence of drugs or alcohol because it can affect an operator's judgment, coordination, and reaction time.According to the US Coast Guard, alcohol is the most significant known contributing factor in fatal boating accidents. Alcohol was a factor in 23% of boating fatalities in 2019.Boaters should never operate a watercraft while under the influence of alcohol or drugs to avoid mishaps caused by these substances.Instead, they should nominate a sober operator or make other transportation arrangements.Boaters should also be wary of the effects of medicine, as some prescribed drugs can affect a boater's ability to operate a vessel safely.

  3. Collision with Another Vessel or Object:

    Serious accidents and fatalities can result from collisions with other boats, fixed objects such as rocks or docks, or floating debris.A collision with another vessel caused 24 percent of fatal boating accidents in 2019.Boaters should always be aware of their surroundings and keep a safe distance from other boats or objects in the water to reduce the risk of being involved in an accident caused by a collision.They should also be aware of navigation regulations and avoid making any abrupt turns or movements.

  4. Capsizing:

    Capsizes on recreational and sailboats accounted for 9% of fatalities. Not only might passengers on a capsized boat be flung overboard, but they may also sustain traumatic injuries resulting from the catastrophe.So, why are small boats prone to capsizing? This is because ships of this size have a smaller weight capacity by design, making them more prone to capsizing. This makes it easy to overwhelm them, resulting in a boat capsizing.As you can see, drowning has become. It continues to be a significant cause of mortality in small boats due to a combination of long-standing difficulties common among recreational boat owners.There is a glaring issue with adherence to and comprehension of basic safety requirements. Unfortunately, smaller vessels have an inherent disadvantage, making them more susceptible to unfavorable situations while on the open waters.

  5. Drowning:

    Many boating fatalities result from drowning, frequently because the victim was not wearing a life jacket. Drowned or couldn't swim to safety. According to the US Coast Guard, drowning accounted for 79% of boating fatalities 2019.Boaters should always wear a life jacket to avoid drowning incidents. They should also be mindful of the water temperature and conditions and avoid swimming in regions with too cold or strong currents.Boaters should also ensure they have the necessary safety equipment, such as a throwable flotation device, in case of an emergency.

Ways to Prevent Fatalities Involving Small Boats:

Thankfully, there is a way to address this issue directly, and that is through prevention. You are already providing yourself and your passengers with a significant edge that should protect them and set everyone's minds at ease simply by being aware of the procedures you should take to lessen the likelihood of fatalities. By doing so, you are giving yourself and your passengers an enormous advantage.

Bring an adequate number of life jackets on board, and remind everyone that they must always wear them while on the vessel. If you are an adult, you might feel embarrassed to learn that just 12% of adults wear life jackets, whereas 65% of children do so. This contrasts with 65% of children wearing a life jacket.

You should always study, especially if you are unfamiliar with what to do in different emergency circumstances. Ensure you are genuinely putting what you are learning into practice as you finish your education.

The question "What should you do once a boat gets swamped far from shore?" is one that every person who operates a boat should know the answer to.

You should be aware that you must remain with the boat at all times and send out a distress signal whenever the opportunity presents itself. As a result, you ought to be aware of what signals to use and how to employ the appropriate instruments for the job.

On the other hand, you should be aware of how to assist other people who need assistance. Keep in mind that the primary obligation of a vessel operator who is supporting another boat in difficulty is, first and foremost, to ensure the safety of everyone who is already aboard their vessel.

To the best of your ability, stay indoors whenever possible when there is bad weather. Only put your life in danger if you are one hundred percent certain that your vessel can manage waves that are higher than usual and winds that are harsher.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q1: What are the most common causes of smallboat fatalities?

Drowning, capsizing, collisions, and alcohol-related occurrences are the leading causes of small boat fatalities.

Q2: How common are boating accidents involving small boats?

A: Small boat fatalities are rather common, particularly during recreational boating activities. To limit the risk, it is critical to follow safety recommendations.

Q3: What is the most common cause of death in small boat accidents?

A: The most common cause of death in small boat accidents is drowning. When accidents occur, many victims are not wearing life jackets.

Q4. Are there any specific safety precautions in place to prevent capsizing?

A: Yes, good weight distribution, not overloading the boat, and paying attention to changing weather conditions can all help to avoid capsizing mishaps.


To summarize, there are a number of key factors that contribute to fatalities that occur when boating. These factors include operator mistake, the use of alcohol or drugs, excessive speed, capsize or swamping, collision with another vessel or item, drowning, and adverse weather conditions.

Boaters should enroll in a boating safety course, properly operate their vessel, avoid distractions, never operate a vessel while under the influence of alcohol or drugs, always wear a life jacket, maintain a safe speed, properly load and distribute the weight of their vessel, be aware of their surroundings, and check the weather forecast before heading out on the water. These steps can help prevent accidents and deaths on the water.

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