U.S. and California boating injuries and deaths increased in 2020

Frank S. Clowney III

With the Pacific Ocean in its backyard, San Diego is among the nation’s hot spots for recreational boating activity. San Diego Bay and Mission Bay also attract many recreational boaters, seeking to relax, fish and enjoy the ocean. And it has been busy lately.

Last year, plenty more boating activities took place near San Diego and the rest of the country. The reason? The pandemic. At least the U.S. Coast Guard suggests this factor may have contributed to the nationwide increase in boating accidents, deaths and injuries.

Boating accidents jumped 52% in California

According to the U.S. Coast Guard’s 2020 Recreational Boating Statistics report, a total of 5,265 boating accidents occurred in the U.S. last year. In those accidents, 767 people died and another 3,191 sustained injuries. These numbers represent a 26% jump from the nearly 4,200 accidents in 2019 and a 25% jump compared with the 613 deaths and 2,559 injuries reported nationwide.

A potential reason for the increase in deaths and injuries may be the COVID-19 pandemic. Some evidence exists that boating activity significantly grew during the pandemic due to increased boat sales, insurance policies made, insurance claims and towing assistance calls.

Here are some of the key takeaways from the report:

  • California saw a big jump in the number of boating accidents in 2020. The 493 reported last year represented a 52% increase compared with the 324 in 2019. The number of boating deaths in California held steady as 39 people died each year of the past two years in such accidents.
  • The five main contributing factors to U.S. boating accidents were operator inattention, operator inexperience, improper lookout, speeding and failure of machinery.
  • Drownings accounted for 75% of the fatalities. And a total of 86% of those victims did not wear a life jacket.
  • Alcohol was the main contributing factor in the nation’s fatal boating accidents. It represented the leading factor in 18% of the deaths.
  • An estimated 77% of the deaths happened on boats in which the operator did not have proper boating safety instruction. Just 12% of the deaths happened on boats where operators were known to have received approved safety education.
  • The main accident types were collisions with a recreational vehicle (41%), flooding/swamping (18%), collisions with a fixed object (16%), grounding (14.5%) and falls overboard (10%).
  • The vessels with the highest percentage of death rates were open motorboats (54%), kayaks (22%), pontoons (9.6%) and personal watercraft (9.5%).

Anyone who enjoys recreational boating near San Diego and along the California coast must also understand the potential hazards. Please stay alert and make good decisions. Then the pleasure may know no limits.