Top 5 causes of boating accidents

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Boating can seem like it is a low-risk hobby, but if you aren’t careful to follow proper boating safety procedures you can easily find yourself in a bad position. The good news is that the vast majority of boating accidents are preventable, meaning that if you are committed to staying safe on the water, you probably will be. Boating accidents can lead to expensive repair costs and higher boat insurance premiums, giving you another reason to stay safe out there. We’ve put together a list of the top five causes of boating accidents, based on the U.S. Coast Guard 2012 Recreational Boating Statistics, and how you can avoid them.

Operator inattention

It can seem safe to the inexperienced boater to let your attention wander when you’re on the water. Unlike in traffic, on a boat there are usually no other vehicles around you, giving the appearance of safety. Operator inattention contributed to 581 accidents in 2012, however, making it the single leading cause of boating accidents. The Arizona Game and Fish Department reminds boaters that boats do not have brakes. Water adds unpredictability and slower response times to a situation in which you need to react quickly. The most reliable way to dodge an accident is to ensure that you are aware of your surroundings and avoid getting into a difficult situation in the first place.


Operator inexperience came in second as a cause for boating accidents. A number of states don’t require formal education before piloting a boat, but that doesn’t mean it’s a bad idea. A boating safety course won’t necessarily prevent all accidents, but it will go a long way toward reducing your risk and giving you and your family peace of mind on the water. A safety course may even lower your insurance premiums, as many boat insurance companies consider a pilot that has completed one of these courses less of a risk.

Improper lookout

Driving a boat isn’t a one man job, especially not on a larger vessel. According to the U.S. Coast Guard, a lookout is someone who is helping to observe the surroundings of the boat, and is usually located near the front of the boat. Before you set out, ask someone you’re boating with to serve as the lookout – an extra set of eyes and ears could potentially have prevented the 391 boating accidents attributed to improper lookouts in 2012.

Machinery failure

The importance of keeping your boat in good shape cannot be overstated. Regular maintenance and inspection will not only protect you from more expensive repair bills down the line when something actually breaks, but could have prevented a number of accidents and deaths on the water. A boat is usually a bigger investment than a car, so keeping your vessel in good shape just makes sense.

Excessive speed

In this respect, boating is no different from driving – excessive speed is dangerous. It can seem like speeding on the water is less dangerous than it actually is because there is so much open space, but speeding accounted for 310 accidents in 2012. Remember that hitting water at speed is often enough to stun a person, leaving him or her unable to swim to safety. This doesn’t mean that you have to travel without wake for your whole journey, but remember that maintaining a safe level of speed is important for protecting your family, your boat and your boat insurance premiums.

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