What Are Most Common Causes of Boating Accidents?

Have you ever been on a boat? Are you interested in owning your own boat, or will you rent one this summer?

No matter your experience with boats or boating, it’s critical to know the causes of boating accidents. In this article, we will talk about the most common causes of boating accidents, which are:

Now imagine this, if you will…

You are a 21-year-old young man. You probably have much to look forward to—a girlfriend, a decent job that pays the bills. The freedom that young people enjoy.

You probably also have a family that loves you, including a cool uncle who took you out on his boat.

Sadly, the day turns awful when a witness calls in a report that you and your uncle’s vessel has capsized. The local fire department is called in to help. You are rescued, but your uncle does not make it.

This is a real event that actually happened in Marinette, Wisconsin. Our hearts stand with the families and the victim of this tragic boating accident. However, this presents a good time to discuss ways boating accidents happen and how to stay safe.

Causes of Boating Accidents

We have already mentioned briefly what the main causes of boating accidents are. But let’s get into it a bit further. What factors lead to these accidents? 

And how can boaters be responsible, so everyone has a fun and safe time? It’s easier than you think. Knowledge is power, as they say, and this is truer than ever for boating safety.

Operator Not Paying Attention

When you ride on a boat, you are up against Mother Nature and the many distractions that take place on a boat. Friends and family laugh. Children shout.

The weather changes rapidly, and the boat might be experiencing issues.

As a boater, it is your responsibility to remove any distractions that prevent you from operating your boat safely.

It’s like when motorists are expected to stow their mobile phones or use hands-free operations while operating a car.  You must do all you can to ensure your focus is on the safe operation of the vessel.

Boating magazine has the solution.

The answer is simple-SCAN. In other words, search, concentrate, analyze, and negotiate.

The idea is simple but effective:

  • Scan the area around your craft to make sure you see what’s going on.
  • Concentrate on what you see and on your navigation equipment. Is the object you are approaching anchored or moving?
  • Analyze what you are seeing. Is it coming near you or going away? What changes should you make?
  • Negotiate and decide what you will do next. Is it safer to turn around, or can you slow down?

These actions can save lives when utilized properly.

Inexperienced Operator

So much goes into operating a boat that it is no wonder this causes accidents. Mike Kikas, a law enforcement professional in Arizona, spoke up. “People think they have all this room,” he said. Kikas is one of eight officers in Lake Pleasant, AZ, patrolling the waters.

He stated that you could be merely 12 years old to get on the water.  You do not even need a driver’s license.

Operator error outnumbers alcohol impairment or other reasons for accidents. One 2016 study reported an alarming fact. 77% of fatal crashes in US waters were by those who had little to no experience.

This, of course, is merely the state of Arizona. You should check with your state. Chances are you can find a course or two to take.

It just takes a little patience and hard work to get out there. Just do the learning, and you will feel safer. Your family, friends, and good memories are worth it.

The best part?

You might even get a discount on your boat insurance too.

Going Too Fast

Going fast is fun. We see the fast boats; we want to be like them. 60 MPH in a boat actually feels like 80 when you are on the road. The thrill is real and super exciting.

But you have to be mindful of other boaters and their crafts.

Another thing to think about is the wakes you make. Going too fast could have you in trouble. Suppose you made wakes where you are not supposed to.

You may even remember a funny video years ago about a man who fell over. He was operating a boat. The clip was funny, but it was a serious problem.

The Lake of the Ozarks was crowded. He should not have been speeding. The man was charged some hefty fines.

You must keep an eye on what’s around you. A great day on the water should not be ruined, especially when you can SCAN and be smart.

Even if you can drive your boat as fast as you like, don’t.

BWI, Boating While Intoxicated

You would not get into your car drunk. You would call a friend, a cab, an Uber. After all, your family and friends need you alive. You have an obligation to keep other motorists safe too.

So why on earth would anybody operate a boat drunk?

It’s easy to see how it can happen. Open waters. Cold beers. Good times. Fishing poles. But it would be best if you did not let the good times roll so easily. Depending on your state, the punishment is harsh.

In New York, for instance, the first BWI incident carries a huge fine. We’re talking $500 to $1000. Can you afford that?

A second conviction is harsher. You will rise to a Class E Felony. You may be sentenced to 4 years in prison and also fined $1000 to $4000.

Take an example from the motor vehicle accidents we hear about. Just don’t do it. Bring a friend.

Make a buddy who is good at operating a boat so you can relax and have a beer or two. You can share the fun and be safe.

Equipment Failing

The year was 2016, when the fatal incident happened on the waters of York River State Park.

What happened, exactly?

Investigators determined equipment failure, as well as hazardous conditions, were the cause.

A 35-year-old woman and her young daughter, aged 9, were the victims of this. The bilge pump of the boat was working fine until one moment when it stopped doing its job.

One investigator reported that both had on life jackets. It was not enough. They were pinned under the bow of the craft.

The boat rolled. Everybody was thrown into the river. The placement of the boat and the jackets made freeing them hard.

The 20-foot boat went under. It had to be extracted by police. Alcohol was not a cause.

Be sure that before you go out each season, get an inspection. Take your boat to the shop. Ask them to look it over and be sure.

It can be tempting to take it out on a nice day. However, it’s better safe than sorry. You and everybody aboard deserve a safe, seaworthy craft.

Dangerous Conditions

Before you go out on the boat, check the weather. It only takes a few seconds and can save your life. Sure, the sun might be out. But do you know what they say in the Caribbean?

“If you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes.”

Always, always take weather into account when you make your trip plan. Be sure you have a radio onboard your craft. You can tune to the NOAA stations to see what’s up.

If you get outdoors and see fog or strong winds, don’t go out. If you see or hear a thunderstorm approaching, keep that boat docked.

Causes of Boating Accidents

Other Ideas:

  • Keep your radio on at all times to stay aware of the weather.
  • Monitor the barometric pressure and watch for fluctuations. Low is a bad sign; high is a good sign.
  • Please pay attention to the wind direction and how it shifts.

Also, be sure that if you are on rough waters, ensure all passengers have life jackets. Pump out the bilges. And close up all ports and hatches so that swamping does not happen.

Also, make sure you know how to dock your boat, even in rough weather conditions, properly.

Check out these short and fun animations about staying safe with the weather.

Lookout Failure

As the boat operator, you are responsible for looking out for your surroundings. Assign a friend to be your lookout also.

Be sure that no passengers or other items on board block your sights. Look on all sides of your boat for flags, buoys, swimmers, and more.

Utilize your radio or radar to see who is nearby and assess any collision risk.


The causes of boating accidents are numerous, but some know how we can stay safe on the water.

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