Americans love putting a boat in the water, and Georgians are no different. Whether it is on lakes, rivers, or the ocean, when good weather rolls around, you can look forward to thousands of Americans heading for their favorite body of water to have a little fun. There were nearly 12 million recreational boats registered in the U.S. in 2019, including jet skis and other personal watercraft. More than 331,000 of those were in Georgia, putting the state 11th in the nation for the largest number of registered boats. Boating is popular wherever there is enough water to float a boat, and Georgia has lakes, rivers, and ocean coastline that provide ample opportunity to take to the water.
Boating Has a Downside
As much fun as boating can be, it carries risks. Thousands of boating accidents happen each year, resulting in thousands of injuries and hundreds of deaths. The Coast Guard recorded 4,168 recreational boating accidents in 2019, with 613 fatalities and 2,559 injuries, in addition to roughly $55 million in property damage. There were 109 boating accidents in Georgia in 2019, with 23 deaths and 57 injuries, according to the Coast Guard. Those numbers probably far underestimate the actual number of accidents, as not all boating accidents must be reported to the Coast Guard, meaning the service’s statistics on boating accidents are not comprehensive.
Some would argue that part of the problem contributing to boating accidents is the lack of training requirements. In fact, 70% of boating deaths happened on boats where the boat operator had received no boating safety instruction. To obtain a license to drive a car, you have to demonstrate at least a basic understanding of traffic laws and pass a driving skills test. Not so to operate a boat. In almost every state, including Georgia there is no license requirement for adults to operate a privately owned boat , nor is there any training requirement. Georgia does require that boaters ages 12 to 15 years old have a license, which carries some training requirements.
Boating accidents are a little different than car crashes in certain ways. Both can involve collisions between vehicles and traumatic injuries resulting from the impact, but nearly 80% of the fatalities in boating accidents die from drowning. Ejection from the boat is common in boating accidents, and if the person ejected is not wearing a life jacket, drowning frequently occurs. Still, boating accidents also bear some similarities to land-based traffic accidents, especially when it comes to the causes of accidents. For instance:
- The leading known factor in fatal boating accidents is alcohol use, resulting in nearly a quarter of all boating accident fatalities.
- Excessive speed also is among the top causes of boating accidents, often leading to the ejection of passengers from the vessel.
Much like driver inattention and distracted driving are top causes of traffic accidents on land, among the leading causes of boating accidents are failure by the boat operator to pay sufficient attention to conditions and traffic; not maintaining an adequate lookout for obstacles, including people in the water; and lack of experience on the part of the boat operator.