Thanks in part to the COVID-19 pandemic, sales of pleasure vessels skyrocketed in 2020 as more people discovered the enjoyment of being out on the water. With the increase in activity, there was also an increase in accidents — we saw the highest fatality rate in the history of the USCG-tracking program for the industry.
In 2020, there was an increase of 26.3 percent year over year and a 25.1 percent increase in fatalities. An incident earlier in the year off Spain involving M/Y A and a small recreational boat that sailed out to get a better look at the yacht, only to end up colliding with the anchored yacht after the operator failed to turn in time. This accident is a reminder that despite the best training and plans, variables still exist and accidents still happen.
Another accident occurred when a 77-meter motor yacht with 18 crew aboard suffered a computer malfunction and loss of engine control while maneuvering outbound from the lagoon in St. Maarten. The captain had an estimated 13 seconds to identify the problem, decide on a course of action, and enact a plan. His training and expertise kicked in and as soon as he realized the engine control issue couldn’t be quickly rectified, he chose to point the bow in the safest direction possible, resulting in damage to the pier and vessel — but no casualties and no environmental damage. His training and prompt actions kept the damage and risk to life to a minimum.
Looking at U.S. data, more than 5,000 boating accidents and 767 boating fatalities were reported nationwide in just one year, with Florida leading the nation in both the number of accidents (804) and fatalities (72). Operator inattention, inexperience, improper lookout, excessive speed, and machinery failure ranked as the top five primary contributing factors in accidents. Alcohol is the leading cause of the fatal accidents with 18 percent of the total fatalities involving alcohol use on board. When the cause of death was listed, 75 percent of fatal boating accident victims drowned, and of those drowning victims, a whopping 86 percent weren’t wearing a life jacket. An even more telling statistic is that 77 percent of the deaths occurred on vessels where the operator hadn’t received any safety instruction or training.
We continue to see the trend of more vessels and less experience as more people flock to the water. More people are chartering vessels as our anchorages and waterways become even more congested. Training and experience are vital components to boating safely, and it’s everyone’s responsibility to keep our waters safe.
For those serving on yachts, continue to train and be aware of what’s going on around you — sometimes accidents happen and cannot be avoided, but perhaps they can be minimized when you apply your training and experience.
This article originally ran in the February 2022 issue of Dockwalk.