Coast Guard Boating Report a Must Read
by Tom Rau

Follow their lead. Without fail, Station Manistee's motor lifeboat crew sets out for a training mission by wearing a life jacket. Follow the coaties'lead-wear one.Photo: Tom Rau/Boat Smart

The Coast Guard’s 2006 annual Boating Statistics report on recreational boating is an absolute must-read
report. This enthralling detailed account of recreational boating reads with the precision of a CAT scan.

With insightful details, the report presents its findings in a statistical format that would make an accountant smile with its ease of use and reading clarity. By law, states are required to report to the Coast Guard boating accidents if a person dies, or if a person is injured and requires medical treatment, or damage to a boat exceeds $2,000.

The Coast Guard believes that most boating fatalities find their way into the system but most boating accidents go unreported. I often wonder what act of fate spared one boater and drew another into the data base. I believe it’s often a slight nuance in fate that spares many boaters. It is for that reason I write the Boat Smart column to expose just how thin the line is between going home safely or not going home at all. Let’s review a summary of the latest 2006 Boating Statistics followed with my comments.

  • The number of boating deaths, injuries and property damage increased for the second consecutive year. In 2006 there were 710 boating deaths compared to 697 for 2005.

    Comment: For years, the fatality count has been going down. Although I find this recent increase disturbing, it does not surprise me. Boaters failing towear life jackets will continue to take its toll. Until that trend is reversed, expect boating deaths to continue at current levels, if not increase.
  • “Overall, two-thirds of all fatal boating accident victims drowned. Of those who drowned, 90 percent of the victims were not wearing a lifejacket. Eight out of every ten boaters who drowned were using boats less than 20 feet in length.”

    Comment: With the increase in fuel prices, I predict more boaters will elect to operate smaller more fuel-efficient boats. That concerns me when you consider eight out of every ten boaters who drowned were on boats less that 20 feet in length.
  • “Consistent with previous years, 70 percent of reported fatalities occurred on boats where the operator had not received boating safety instruction.

    Comment: Until we have mandatory boating education for all boaters regardless of their age, expect boating deaths to continue or exceed current levels. I urge those that oppose or resist mandatory boating education to pay heed to the high percentage of fatalities linked to a lack of boating education. In recent years this figure has been as high 89 percent.
  • “Operator inattention, carelessness/ reckless operation, excessive speed, and no proper lookout are the primary contributing factors in all reported accidents.”

    Comment: Lack of a proper lookout and speed are the primary cause of most boat collisions, that and alcohol. I suspect the increase in small, fast boats can be linked to an increase in boating fatalities and injuries. I often hear disgruntlement from boaters regarding the increase in fast boats, especially on inland lakes.
  • “Alcohol use is the leading contributing factor in fatal boating accidents; accounting for nearly 20 percent of all reported fatalities.”

    Comment: In my book, Boat Smart Chronicles, Lake Michigan Devours Its Wounded, I make a strong case for why boating under the influence should be linked to a person’s motor vehicle driving record as legislators have done in the State of Indiana. It’s one thing to lose boating privileges, another to lose motor vehicle driving privileges. For certain, it will get boaters to take seriously the consequences of operating a boat under the influence.

  • “Twenty-nine children age 12 and under lost their lives while boating in 2006; compared to 21 children in 2005 and 14 children in 2004. Nearly twice as many children drowned in 2006 compared to 2004.”

    The fatality rate amongst children age 12 and under has more than doubled in two years. Of the 29 children age 12 and under that died, 15 were due to drowning, the other 14 involved boat collisions and other physical traumas.

  • “The most common types of boats involved in reported accidents were open motorboats at forty-five percent, personal watercraft at twenty-four percent and cabin motorboats at fourteen percent. A significant increase was observed in the fatalities involving canoes and kayaks, with 99 fatalities reported in 2006 compared 78 in 2005.”

    I absolutely refuse to get underway on a small boat whether it be power or paddle without wearing a life jacket. These revealing boating statistics and much more can be visited at Believe me, this highly acclaimed report is an absolute must read

Tom Rau is a long-time Coast Guard rescue responder and syndicated boating safety columnist. Look for his book, Boat Smart Chronicles, a shocking expose on recreational boating — reads like a great ship’s log spanning over two decades. It’s available to order at:,,, or through local bookstores.