Boating safety should be the number one concern and priority for everyone who goes out on any type of boat, from pontoon, to small fishing boat, from jet ski to cruising yacht. Yet almost daily we see news reports of deaths and near misses of people who failed to follow basic rules, failed to use safety equipment. Having the right and mandatory safety equipment is one thing but knowing how and when to use it is another. Understanding the weather and recognizing changes, and how to actually operate a boat. So many accidents relate to alcohol, or over estimating their competence. Often deaths and injuries or near misses are associated with needless risk taking. Some of my sailing mates reckon I am a bit over the top, almost fixated on safety afloat, and I reply GUILTY! My view is you can’t be too safe, you can’t be too prepared and I really have learnt from my past mistakes, as on some occasions I was lucky to come out of it.
I am a professionally qualified Lead Auditor for the International Safety Management (ISM) Code for the safe operation of ships. This international safety code applies to all ships and vessels over 500 grt, and I have carried out many audits against that code. Why is this important, because the exact same principles for commercial maritime are applicable to how you operate your boat, perhaps not legally having to comply, although if someone does get killed or injured as a result of your negligence or actions you may end up with criminal charges and civil actions filed against you. Hopefully I have piqued your interest. So all that follows is related to my view of safety afloat and it echoes much of what marine authorities worldwide try to disseminate. To add to that, I have seen many deaths and injuries in my professional life, from burials over the side at sea, to having friends and colleagues electrocuted, blown up, crushed and so on. So I dedicate all that follows in their memory. I would also support that by saying that after a lifetime cruising and boating I have made my share of errors, had avoidable near misses and wondered why on earth I did some things. This safety section summarizes much of what I have learnt and I am sure that much will resonate with readers, who will nod and say, been there and done that!
The vast majority of boat accidents and fatalities are due to people going overboard while not wearing a life jacket or Personal Flotation Device (PFD) and subsequently drowning. Other major causes are capsizing of the boat with no one wearing a boat PFD, being swamped by large eaves, sinking and running aground. In over 40% of fatal boating accidents, alcohol was a major contributory factor and was about 25% of the total fatality number, mostly among fishing and power boats. Risky behavior is another cause identified. Many accidents happen around dusk or twilight hour and are a result of a long day drinking when alcohol impaired judgement finally takes over. Another far too common injury is propeller strike. Have you ever seen a propeller strike injury? Mostly caused by inexperienced boaters, negligence and incompetence and also alcohol impairment. Be hyper vigilant around the propeller area when people are in the water, and absolutely never allow people to board or exit the boat when engines are on, or even idling. Skiers and tubers are at high risk. Also don’t overload your boat with people or gear and always wear the boat engine cutoff switch lanyard. Boating accidents are avoidable. Safety on boats is your number one priority. Don't be a boating accident statistic.
The most common vessel types were motorboats at 46%, personal watercraft at 22%, cabin motorboats at 13% with the highest death percentages being open motorboats at 50%, kayaks at 15% and pontoons at 9%. The top 5 causes of accidents were a collision with another recreational vessel, flooding or swamping, collision with fixed objects, grounding and falling overboard. The statistics come with caveats. There are many incidents, accidents and fatalities that fall outside the reporting regime. Some are worth noting as they are ever present dangers on many boats, so this are some but not all non-reportable accidents. From boat sinkings and boat capsize the boat EPIRB
Yachts and sail boats represent different risk profiles, very much lower fatalities but greater risks. On the injury and fatality front there is a wide range of issues and risks. Much research has been done with respect to injuries and fatalities and the medical aspects I will review. Yacht accidents do happen and while many accidents and medical episodes go unreported or do not get collected in official statistics, much research has been done. The actual number of reported fatalities is quite low. Boat first aid kits require careful assessment. Other threats appear with everything from collision or near misses with merchant vessels, to hitting submerged containers, or mast strikes on high voltage overhead wiring. The moving environment of a sailing yacht also creates many opportunities to go overboard. Man overboard incidents have claimed several lives and we will explore manoverboard accidents including the subject of wearing a sailing safety harness along with the man overboard alarm and personal EPIRB. The subject of jackstays arises along with the yacht safety line. One researcher publicly declared that sailing was more dangerous than snow skiing. Galleys and cooking on a sailboat are often dangerous and result in burn injuries. Collision with other vessels and subsequent sinking is always a threat. Hulls get damaged, fittings are destroyed and gelcoat gets scratched up. With bad weather comes issues of exposure and good foul weather gear is essential. Of course it would not be complete without considering boat security. All about boating safety is here.