Skip Links

Alcohol Tops Accident Contributors

Coast Guard statistics reveal decreasing recreational boating accidents in 2022, but the leading causes remain frustratingly fixable with skipper education, attentiveness.

Red and white TowBoatU.S. vessel assisting a white and blue boat on top of rocks.

Accidents happen, but most are avoidable.

Safe boaters see inexperienced and irresponsible boaters on the water on a regular basis, so it should come as no surprise that alcohol continued to be the leading known contributing factor in fatal boating accidents in 2022, accounting for 88 deaths, or 16% of total fatalities. The recently released 2022 U.S. Coast Guard Recreational Boating Statistics report also reveals the 636 total reported boating fatalities nationwide were a 3.3% decrease from the 658 deaths in 2021.

The total number of boating accidents decreased 9% (4,439 to 4,040), and the number of nonfatal injured victims decreased 15.9% (2,641 to 2,222). Operator inattention, operator inexperience, improper lookout, excessive speed, and machinery failure ranked, respectively, as the top five primary contributing factors in accidents. Even more tragically, drowning was the official cause of death in 75% of fatal boating incidents. And among those drowning victims, 85% of the deceased were not wearing a life jacket.

“Most incidents occur in benign conditions — calm waters, light wind, and good visibility — under which you may least expect to end up in the water, which is why it is critical to wear a life jacket and engine cut-off switch at all times as they are designed to save your life,” says Capt. Troy Glendye, chief of the Coast Guard’s Office of Auxiliary and Boating Safety.

Young adult Caucasian male wearing sunglasses, gray shirt and a navy life jacket fishing off a boat.

PFDs save lives, but only if worn.

The Coast Guard (and BoatU.S.) reminds boaters to ensure life jackets are serviceable, properly sized, correctly fastened, and suitable for your activity. Among accident where boating instruction was known, 74% of deaths occurred on vessels where the operator had not received boating safety instruction. The Coast Guard (and BoatU.S.) encourages all boaters take a boating safety course that meets the National Boating Education Standards before they go boating.
White boat that jumped a sea wall and crashed into a tree and bushes in front of a white house.

Fun on the water can turn into tragedy in an instant at high speeds.

Other takeaways from the report:

  • The fatality rate was 5.4 deaths per 100,000 registered recreational vessels. In 1971, when the Safe Boating Act was first passed, the fatality rate was 20.6 deaths per 100,000 registered recreational vessels.
  • Property damage totaled $63 million.
  • The most common vessel types involved in reported incidents were open motorboats, personal watercraft, and cabin motorboats. Where vessel type was known, the vessel types with the highest percentage of deaths were open motorboats (47%), kayaks (14%), and personal watercraft and pontoons (9%).

The data is based on incidents that resulted in at least one of the following criteria: death, disappearance, injury that required medical treatment beyond first aid, damages to the vessel(s) or other property that equaled or exceeded $2,000, or a loss of vessel. “We thank our partners in boating safety who have all made it their mission to prevent incidents through educational outreach and enforcement,” says Glendye.

Related Articles


Click to explore related articles

safety and prevention personal safety


Rich Armstrong

Senior Editor, BoatUS Magazine

A journalist by training, BoatUS Magazine Senior Editor Rich Armstrong has worked in TV news, and at several newspapers, then spent 18 years as a top editor at other boating publications. He’s built a stellar reputation in the marine industry as one of the most thorough reporters in our business. At BoatUS Magazine, Rich handles everything from boat and product innovation and late-breaking news, to compelling feature stories, boat reviews, and features on people and places. The New Jersey shore and lakes of lower New York defined Rich's childhood. But when he bought a 21-foot Four Winns deck boat and introduced his young family to the Connecticut River, his love for the world of boats flourished from there.