Recreational boating accidents, injuries and fatalities on the water fell to a record low nationally in 2012, with New Jersey enjoying a similar drop.
The downward trend has continued for several years, and while the number of registered boats is declining, the U.S. Coast Guard believes boating safety courses, a push for life jacket use and campaigns to reduce boating under the influence, known as BUI, are starting to pay off.
The national safety push is reinforced by U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary chapters as they conduct inspections and boating safety courses.
"We're very pleased that casualties are lower and thank our partners for their hard work over the past year. We will continue to stress the importance of life jacket wear, boating education courses and sober boating," said Coast Guard Capt. Paul Thomas, director of inspections and compliance.
The Coast Guard has compiled boating statistics for 54 years, issuing a report every May for the previous year. During that time, 2012 had the fewest fatalities, with 651 deaths on the water. This is a 14.1 percent drop from 758 deaths in 2011.
Injuries declined from 3,081 to 3,000, a 2.6 percent reduction, while boating accidents dropped from 4,588 to 4,515, a 1.6 percent decrease.
The study also shows the fatality rate of 5.4 deaths per 100,000 boats reflected a 12.9 percent decline from the 6.2 deaths per 100,000 vessels in 2011. In contrast, there were 27.7 deaths per 100,000 boats in 1973.
New Jersey had seven boating deaths in 2012, down from eight in both 2011 and 2010. The state had only six in 2009, but had 10 in 2008, eight in 2007 and 11 in 2006. The statistics are only for recreational boating and do not include commercial fishing operations.
One accident can cause multiple deaths, so a more telling statistic may be the number of New Jersey boating accidents. They have steadily declined over five years, from 140 in 2008 to 115 in 2012. Florida is the statistical leader with 662 accidents and 48 deaths in 2012.
One factor in the decline is a drop in the number of registered boats, possibly due to a bad economy, high gasoline prices and other factors. Registered boats have dropped from 12.9 million in 2005 to 12.1 million in 2012, although the total is still way up from the 8.5 million in 1980. The decline between 2011 and 2012 was 72,000 recreational vessels, a 6 percent decrease.
The Coast Guard report has a detailed breakdown on the types of accidents, weather conditions at the time, the sizes of boats, a state-by-state breakdown and other information.
The statistics show alcohol continues to be a major factor in boating fatalities, contributing to 17 percent of them. It's listed as the No. 1 cause, followed by inexperience, inattention, excessive speed, violating navigational rules, improper lookouts, sharp turns and drug use.
Deaths involving alcohol, however, have declined over the past four years, with 165 in 2009, 154 in 2010, 149 in 2011 and 140 in 2012. Nonfatal injuries in accidents involving alcohol during this period declined from 422 to 313.
New Jersey follows the same alcohol limit for driving a motor vehicle, with a .08 blood-alcohol standard. Violators can lose their boating privileges and motor vehicle driver's license.
Drowning is still the No. 1 way to die and occurs in 71 percent of the cases, while 84 percent of the victims are not wearing life jackets, which are only required for children. New Jersey has already had one case this year where an adult not wearing a life jacket drowned when his boat capsized off Ocean City.
The deaths included 24 children under the age of 13. Ten of them died from drowning and eight of them were not wearing the required life jacket.
About 86 percent of the deaths were on boats where the operator had not taken a boating safety course. The Coast Guard is urging all boaters to wear a life jacket, take a boating safety course, get a free vessel safety check and avoid alcohol consumption.
The report shows smaller boats are the most dangerous, with 278 of the 651 deaths in boats 16 feet or less while 262 deaths were on boats 16 to 26 feet. The report showed that seven of every 10 boaters who drowned were on boats less than 21 feet long.
The most fatalities, 44 percent, are on open motorboats, but that is the lowest percentage for this category in a decade. It was at 57 percent in 2002. Fatalities in canoes and kayaks are rising, possibly due to the popularity of kayaks. Fatalities rose from 10 percent in 2002 to 16 percent last year, the second highest category. Personal watercraft is the third most dangerous category, at 9 percent. Pontoon boat fatalities jumped from 3 percent in 2002 to 7 percent last year.
The report has some surprises, such as 315 deaths in the calmest waters and only 29 in the roughest waters. The most fatalities are in smaller water bodies such lakes and ponds (349 deaths) compared to just 43 in oceans and the Gulf of Mexico.
The report listed property damage from accidents at about $38 million.
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