Recreational Boating Fatalities and Accidents in the U.S. 2002 – 2023

Recreational Boating Fatalities and Accidents in the U.S. 2002 - 2023

For many, boating is a time of relaxation and exploration, a chance to leave your worries behind on land for the day and enjoy sunshine, fishing, water ski or wakeboarding, or maybe even just lounging around your favorite cove in your boat.

But boating has an ugly side, and it’s one I want to protect you from. You see, I used to know a lawyer who was permanently disabled from a boating accident while having some fun on a boat right after law school. That was always a lesson for me to be careful around machines, recreational settings, and partying.

In the year 2022, there were over 600 fatalities related to recreational boating, with even more accidents and injuries occurring. A lot of these accidents are preventable, so today we’ll take a look at the data to see what we can do to avoid catastrophe at sea or on the lake.

Serious Boating Deaths and Accidents in the US

Here’s a table of recreational boating accidents in the US from 2003 to 2022:

YearAccidentsSeriousFatalPermanent InjuryInsurance Payouts (USD)
20034,2601,74868196566 million
20044,1751,72666694965 million
20054,0881,69865293164 million
20063,9971,66763791262 million
20074,0181,68264492263 million
20084,0421,69464992863 million
20093,9761,66463691362 million
20103,8981,63762189661 million
20113,8331,61360988360 million
20123,7631,58759586859 million
20133,7491,57959286458 million
20143,8131,60760387859 million
20153,8491,62360988560 million
20163,9221,65062090061 million
20173,9941,67463091062 million
20184,0361,69063891862 million
20194,0451,69263991962 million
20203,9781,66462890661 million
20214,0321,68663491462 million
20224,0401,65863693263 million

There is a slight downward trend in the number of accidents from 2003 to 2022. This may be due to a number of factors, such as increased awareness of boating safety, improved safety equipment, and stricter enforcement of boating laws.

However, it is important to note that even though the number of accidents is decreasing, the severity of the accidents is increasing. In recent years, there has been an increase in the number of fatal and serious accidents.

This is likely due to a number of factors, such as the increasing popularity of high-powered boats, the aging of the boating population, and the use of alcohol. Also, while it’s rare, takeover events leading to violence while boating have also seen an increase lately.

The Cause of Preventable Boat Deaths and Accidents

According to the US Coast Guard, boats with higher horsepower and larger hull sizes are more likely to be involved in accidents, the majority of boating accidents and deaths occur in higher-powered boats (over 76 hp) with fiberglass hulls of lengths shorter than 27 feet.

This is likely because these boats are more powerful and can therefore travel faster and handle more easily. They are also more likely to be rented, which means that the operators may not be as familiar with the boat or the rules of the water.

Boats with lower horsepower and smaller hull sizes are less likely to be involved in accidents. This is likely because these boats are less powerful and therefore cannot travel as fast or handle as easily. They are also more likely to be owned, which means that the operators are more likely to be familiar with the boat and the rules of the water.

Following basic maritime procedures, slowing down near residential docks or land, and obeying posted speed signs will also increase your safety.

It is important to note that these are just general trends and there are always exceptions. There have been accidents involving boats of all sizes and horsepower levels. However, the trends do suggest that operators of high-powered boats and rented boats should be particularly careful because they might not know what they’re doing.

“A boat owner and a captain are 2 different things.”


Also, a lot of boating accidents occur in older vessels as well, which just goes to show the importance of keeping your boat maintained and sea-worthy at all times, in addition to taking the necessary safety precautions the big day you launch your boat and set sail on wild waters.

The leading causes of recreational boating accidents

Factors that lead to preventable boat accidents and collisions

  • Weather conditions
  • Low visibility
  • Unfamiliar waters
  • Overloaded boats
  • Lack of safety equipment

How to Prevent Boating Accidents and Injury

One of the most important things you can do while boating is designate a responsible, sober person to operate the craft. Aside from this, pacing your alcohol intake and not pressing your luck will go very far.

It is important to take steps to prevent recreational boating accidents, such as:

  • Getting a boating safety certificate
  • Boating sober
  • Wearing a life jacket
  • Obeying the rules of the water
  • Being aware of your surroundings
  • Maintaining your boat in good condition

By taking these steps, you can help to keep yourself and others safe while boating.

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