Boats and Alcohol. A Study.

If you look closely at boating safety trends over the last half-century, you can clearly see trends that have developed that make our waterways safety places to be, but, according to a recent Coast Guard Auxiliary Study (CCAS), conducted by the office of of Boating Safety, there's still a long way to go.

In 2008, the full year statistics were gathered, and the study showed a radial drop in the number of deaths per 100,000 registered watercraft. Indeed, in the last 52 years the drop has been a fantastic 83 percent. In 1960, for example, there were 33.4 deaths per 100,000. The numbers represent a huge drop since they were first gathered. Indeed, the figures indicate the boating deaths have been dropping steadily at a rate of about 4.6 percent yearly.

At the same time, the authors of the report are concerned, that the positive downward trend seems to have flattened as they indicated that the figures from 2006 to 2008 show that the trend had slipped from 4.6 to 2.5 percent. The authors indicated that the number of deaths per year seems to have plateaued at the 700 per year level.

Given this situation, the authors of this report, the CCAS Office of Boating Safety, think that the time could be ripe for an outreach program and using voluntary initiatives to try to improve the fatality rates further.

Indeed, one approach that could be taken although they did not specifically mention it is a campaign aimed at drinking and boating. As the report notes and as other reports have noted as well alcohol fuels many of the fatalities in boating, whether it's the result of the person falling overboard or the result of a capsizing, the result is nevertheless the same, a drowning death. The authors suggest a program to help mitigate this type of death.

Indeed, they also point out that alcohol-related deaths tend to occur in small boats, rather than in larger boats or cabin cruisers. The reason, they speculate, is that larger boats and cabin cruisers are inherently more stable than small boats. (In a recent example in Boston, for example, a small aluminum boat was being driven late at night be a pair of severely alcohol-impaired boaters. The result was the boat piled into a ledge of submerged rocks at speed and the operator was thrown overboard. His passenger was recovered before morning and has since made a recovery, however, the pilot of the boat was not found for several days as his body was entangled rip-rap of stones and other debris and it took divers to bring him out. If the operator or his passenger had been refused liquor or a designated operator had been named, it is quite likely that everyone would be alive today.)

Interestingly, a category of watercraft that you might consider to be one that would generate significant injuries, the personal water craft (PWB), has been shown to be safer than the more standard types of craft. The reason, the authors of the report speculate, is that operators of PWBs are required to wear life jackets or floatation devices of some sort so if they have a problem, they will be in a position where they can be saved. The same is true of water skiers who are also mandated to wear life jackets or personal flotation devices before they can climb on the skis for a spin around a lake.

One key factor that the authors of the report hint at is that PWB regulations tend to make their operators safer than operators of more standard small boats. For example, PWBs cannot go faster than a certain low speed when they are near beaches and they cannot, in most states, approach swimming beaches directly. Also, in mooring or launching areas they are limited in the speeds at which they can travel, making them the more inherently stable craft.