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Executive Summary

The California Division of Boating and Waterways administers many programs to provide for boating safety on the State’s waterways. The 2004 California Boating Safety Report summarizes activities performed in three key safety program areas:

  • Boating accident analysis
  • Law enforcement
  • Safety education.
  • This report also highlights the Department’s current program enhancements and future safety initiatives designed to reduce accidents and make California’s waterways safer.
    Through the boating accident program, the Department provides useful accident information to boaters, law enforcement agencies, and educators. This information is communicated to the general public through the incorporation of relevant safety measures based on accident analysis into the Department’s safety education programs and law enforcement training programs. Exhibit E-1 provides a summary of key boating accident statistics for 2004.

    The Department provides supplemental funding to counties for law enforcement activities and promotes uniform enforcement of boating laws through its law enforcement training program. In 2004, the financial aid program allocated $8.1 million to 36 counties and two cities for enforcement personnel and operating costs. In turn, the counties provided crucial boating law enforcement, as well as safety training for law enforcement officers and the public. Exhibit E-2 provides a summary of law enforcement activities supported by the Department’s financial aid program.

    In 2004, the law enforcement training program included seven courses on various boating safety topics, in which Department staff trained 547 marine enforcement officers.

    The Department’s safety education programs provided nearly two million individuals with boating safety training and materials.

    On-going partnerships with educational institutions, aquatic centers, and non-profit organizations provided crucial safety information to students and the general public. Additionally, the Department sponsored a statewide radio and outdoor media campaign to promote life jacket use, environmental stewardship, and boating safety course participation. Exhibit E-3 provides a summary of the Department’s safety education outreach programs.
    Few programs developed in 2004 focus on improving public outreach and expanding law enforcement training. Enhancements to existing programs reflect changing accident statistics and key safety concerns. Exhibit E-4 presents a summary of 2004 program enhancements and initiatives.

    Exhibit E-1 | 2004 California Boating Accident Summary Statistics
    Overall Boating Accident Highlights

    • In 2004, boating accidents decreased 23% from 2003. A total of 744 boating accidents were reported to the Department, involving 439 injuries, 44 fatalities, and $4,073,400 in property damage.
    • About 34% of all vessels and 76% of PWC involved in accidents were operated by someone other than the registered owner. These findings demonstrate the need to emphasize boating education for all vessel operators, not only vessel owners.
    • Accidents occurred mostly during the summer months (May through September), on weekends, and during the hours between 2:00 p.m. - 4:00 p.m. The largest number of accidents (44%) occurred on lakes, followed by ocean/bay waters (31%).
    • 18% of boating accidents and nearly one quarter of all injuries occurred during the summer holiday periods of Memorial Day, Independence Day, and Labor Day.
    • 38% of reported accidents resulted from collisions with other vessels.
    • Operator inattention (40%) was the most common cause of boating accidents, followed by operator inexperience (28%), and excessive speed (27%). (Many accidents had more than one cause.)
    • Open motorboats were involved in 52% of all accidents. PWC were involved in 25%.
    • 66% of vessels involved in all accidents were less than 26 feet in length. 86% of vessels involved in fatal boating accidents were also less than 26 feet in length.
    • Of operators whose ages were known, those in the 21-30 age group were involved in more accidents than any other age group, followed by the 41-50 and 31-40 age groups.
    • Accidents involving water skiing activities have decreased 27% since 2003. 16% of boating accidents occurred during water skiing activities. (In this report, the term “water skiing” refers to all activities involving a vessel towing a person on a towline.)

    PWC Accident Statistics

    • Accounting for 18% of registered vessels, PWC were involved in 25% of all accidents, 34% of all injuries, 16% of all fatalities, and 7% of all property damage.
    • In January 1998, two laws impacting PWC operators took effect. The first law raised the minimum age to operate a vessel over 15 horsepower from 12 to 16 years of age.

    Since the PWC is the vessel of choice for the vast majority of youth operators, we believe that this law has decreased the number of PWC-related accidents. A second law, prohibiting activities such as wake jumping within 100 feet of another vessel, spraying down other vessels, and playing “chicken” with another vessel, has also had a positive impact on PWC-related accidents.

    • Accidents involving PWC have decreased 52% since January 1998. Trends contributing to this result:

      – Accidents involving youths operating all types of vessels have decreased 58%.

      – PWC accidents involving radical maneuvers (such as wake jumping, donuts, and spraying other vessels) have decreased 52%.

    Since changes in law noted above, and the resulting continued decrease of PWC-related accidents, the number of PWC accidents per hours under way has been approaching the rate for traditional vessels. In 2004, PWC were involved in fewer accidents than traditional vessels. The 2004 data revealed that:

    • When controlled for hours under way, there would have been one accident for every 824 traditional vessels operating on California waterways, compared to one accident for every 857 PWC.
    • 70% of PWC-related accidents and 86% of PWC-related fatalities resulted from collisions with other vessels.
    • In PWC collisions with another vessel, the other vessel was most often another PWC (60%).
    • The most common cause of PWC-related accidents involved operator inexperience (58%), operator inattention (55%), and excessive speed (55%). (Many accidents had more than one cause.)
    • 32% of PWC operators were age 11-20 and were involved in more accidents than any other age group, followed closely by the 21-30 age group (30%) .
    • 76% of PWC involved in accidents were operated by someone other than the registered owner (55% were borrowed and 21% were rented).

    Youth Accident Statistics (Youth is under 18 years of age)

    • Since January 1998, when the minimum age for solo operation of a vessel over 15 HP was raised from 12 to 16 years of age, the number of accidents involving youth operators has decreased 58%, from 120 in 1997 to 51 in 2004.
    • During the 2004 boating season, a total of 65 youth operators were involved in 7% of all accidents, 10% of all injuries, and 5% of fatalities.
    • Operator inexperience was a factor in 63% of accidents involving youth operators and was the most common cause of accidents involving them. Operator inexperience was a factor in only 28% of accidents involving operators of all ages.
    • 32 operators involved in accidents (49%) were under the age of 16. Two of those operators were under the age of 12.
    • Of the 32 operators under 16 years of age, 72% did not have an adult on board.
    • Collisions with other vessels accounted for 67% of accidents involving youth operators.
    • Most of the collisions involved youth operators colliding with adult operators.
    • In collisions between youth and adult operators, youth operators were more likely to be exclusively at fault.
    • 83% of youth operators involved in accidents were operating a PWC.

    Fatal Accident Statistics

    • Of the 44 fatalities in 2004, 70% occurred between May and September. 45% of all fatalities occurred on Saturday or Sunday, and an additional 18% occurred on the Monday following a holiday weekend.
    • 68% of all victims drowned. Of that group, 70% were not wearing a life jacket.
    • 34% of fatalities in 2004 were fishing-related. 30% of those victims were boating in the off-season of October through April.
    • Of all fishing-related fatalities, 87% were the result of vessels capsizing or falls overboard. All of the victims drowned and none was wearing a life jacket.
    • Over half (52%) of the vessels involved in fatal accidents were open motorboats, followed by PWC (18%).
    • The majority (86%) of vessels involved in fatal accidents were less than 26 feet in length.
    • Vessels capsizing (36%), collisions with other vessels (23%), and falls overboard (20%) were the most common types of fatal accidents.
    • The most common causes of fatalities were operator inattention (57%), hazardous weather/water conditions (34%) excessive speed (32%) and operator inexperience (23%).(Many accidents had more than one cause.)
    • Operators in the 31-40 age group were involved in more fatal boating accidents than any other age group.
    • 39% of fatalities occurred on lakes, 27% occurred on oceans/bays, 18% on the Colorado River, 11% on other rivers throughout the state, and 5% on the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta region.
    • 38% of boating fatalities were found to be alcohol related, where testing could be conducted.

    Exhibit E-2 |
    Services Supported by the 2003-2004 Financial Aid Program
    Regulation Enforcement
    Verbal Warnings
    Physical Arrests
    Boater Assistance
    Persons Assisted
    Vessels Assisted
    Accident Investigations
    Search and Rescue Operations
    Body Recovery Attempts
    Boating Safety Presentations
    Organized Boating Event Supervision

    Exhibit E-3 | 2004 California Boating Safety Education Program

    Education Programs
    AquaSMART Elementary Education Program
    participating students
    AquaSMART Boating High School Education Program
    participating students
    Home Study Course ( General Public)
    courses distributed
    Poster Contest (12 Annual)
    Aquatic Center Grant Program
    Grants to universities and non-profit organizations
    for the purchase of boats, equipment, and related
    safety supplies
    individuals trained

    Public Outreach Programs
    In 2004, Department representatives:

    • Attended numerous events, such as boat shows and safety fairs to distribute boating safety literature and answer questions from the public.
    • Continued the Boating Safety Awareness multi media campaign, focusing on areas with the greatest number of accidents. The campaign’s outdoor component consisted of 50 stationary billboards, 10 mobile billboards, and 500 wall graphics (framed all-weather posters at launching ramps, fuel docks, and park entrances). The billboards are designed to resemble “road signs” for the waterways. Mobile billboards traveled to high-accident waterways throughout the summer, particularly on major holiday weekends.
    • The Department created and produced two new radio messages. Bev Lite, a 60-second message addressing the consequences of drinking alcohol while boating. While, CO Kills spoke to the importance of preventing carbon monoxide poisoning when boating.
    • Continued to place special emphasis on educating anglers by placing articles and messages in fishing publications throughout the state.
    • Distributed 1.2 million copies of boating safety literature.

    Abandoned Watercraft Removal Program
    The Department administers a program for the removal of abandoned watercraft and substantial navigational hazards from California’s waterways. The Abandoned Watercraft Abatement Fund (AWAF) program grants funds to local public agencies for the removal, storage, and disposal of these navigational hazards. In 2004, a total of $413,770.00 was allocated to eight public agencies for the removal and disposal of abandoned vessels and other substantial hazards to navigation.

    Exhibit E-4 | 2004 California Boating Safety Program Enhancements
    Life Jacket Use

    • The Department continues the Life Jacket Loan Program aimed at increasing the use of life jackets by children. In cooperation with fire stations in the Greater Sacramento area, an individual or family can check out life jackets for a day or a weekend simply by completing a loan form.
    • The Department continues the T-Shirt Program, aimed at increasing the use of life jackets by children. Marine enforcement units, U. S. Coast Guard Stations, U. S. Coast Guard Auxiliary Flotillas and US Power Squadrons are supplied with T-shirts for children. The shirts are used to reward children under the age of 13 found wearing their life jacket while boating. This popular program recognizes safe behavior and reinforces continued use of life jackets by this target group.
    • The Department continues placing outdoor and radio messages reminding boaters to wear their life jackets in areas where accidents are most prevalent. Billboards and posters look like waterway “road signs” depicting images for overall boating safety. The Department promotes the use of life jackets at safety fairs and boat shows throughout the state, through the annual Safe and Wise Water Ways poster contest for children, and at National Safe Boating Week events.
    • In 2004, the Media Campaign’s Safety Team gave away hundreds of free life jackets at over 40 marine events throughout the state.
    • In 2003, the Department partnered with Infinity Broadcasting, Nor Cal Water, and AM PM Mini Marts to remind their collective clients in Northern California to Get Hooked on H2O and Boat Smart from the Start…Wear Your Life Jacket. An estimated 12 million impressions were made on clients as the messages traveled the airwaves and were viewed at purchase points.

    Personal Watercraft

    • The Department provides a short course on PWC operation and safe boat handling. The course is intended for PWC operators of all ages and is available to the general public. It is designed so that it can easily be incorporated into existing safety programs offered by organizations such as the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, the U.S. Power Squadrons, marine law enforcement agencies, and aquatic centers. There is a 20-question exam at the end of the booklet to self-test on the material covered. This basic course does not earn a certificate, but is simply a tool to introduce new PWC operators to laws, requirements, and important safety issues associated with their vessels. This short course is now available online and those who complete the quiz online are rewarded with access to boating-themed screensavers.
    • The promotion of safe operation of PWC is a component of the Department’s outdoor media campaign.
    • The Department offers a 32 hour P.O.S.T certified PWC-handling course specifically for law enforcement.

    Youth Operator Safety

    • The Department distributes the AquaSMART Boating program for high school students throughout California. This course incorporates lessons on key safety concerns identified by accident statistics. Four types of boating are addressed: personal watercraft, powerboating, sailing, and paddling. The course is available to schools, aquatic centers, and youth organizations.


    • The Department notifies law enforcement agencies statewide about alcohol-related fatalities and encourages them to strengthen their educational and enforcement efforts in this area. The Department reinforces this message at all of its law enforcement training classes.
    • The curriculum for all AquaSMART youth programs includes information on the dangers of alcohol and drug use, especially when boating. Zero tolerance is emphasized for all persons engaged in aquatic recreation.
    • The Department’s Get H2Ooked on Sober Boating T-Shirt promotion continued at boat shows and other outreach venues throughout the state.
    • The Department developed and aired a new radio message, Bev Lite, that confronted the consequences of drinking alcohol while boating.

    Carbon Monoxide Education

    • In 2004, the Department distributed 25,000 brochures to educate boaters of the dangers of marine carbon monoxide poisoning. It also includes warning stickers for a boat’s helm and transom. The brochure is distributed at boat shows, safety fairs, and other events and is also available on the Department’s Website as part of a carbon monoxide information Webpage.
    • The Department is producing both a TV and a radio PSA to increase awareness of carbon monoxide poisoning.
    • The Department is improving the collection of carbon monoxide boating accident data by increasing training to law enforcement officers who investigate accidents.
    • The Department’s Media Campaign added a new radio message, CO Kills, to talk to boaters about preventing carbon monoxide poisoning when boating.

    Other Safety Enhancements

    • In 2004, the Department sponsored 80 AquaSMART Live performances. Praised by educators, the traveling puppet show is hosted by Splasher the Frog, mascot of the AquaSMART program. AquaSMART Live has two programs for grades K-3 and 4-6. The K-3 program uses stunt dummies to demonstrate to children what can happen when you do not play safe in and around the water. The 4-6 program is a game show format where two teams compete for prizes while learning how to stay safe in and around the water.
    • The Department has produced a water skiing safety video to cover not only traditional water skiing activities, but also to include wakeboarding, kneeboarding, inner tubing, and other related activities. This video is currently used in boating safety education classes offered by aquatic centers in California.
    • The Department is finishing work on a brochure that promotes hands-on boating safety courses and contains information on classes offered by aquatic centers have partnered with the Department. This brochure will be completed in Summer of 2005.
    • In order to better serve California’s growing Spanish-speaking population, the Department continues to distribute Spanish language boating and water safety resources. Boaters can order copies of Spanish translations of selected Department publications, or view and download them on Boating and Waterways’ new Spanish Website, at www.dbw.ca.gov/Espanol
    • In 2004, the Department partnered with Arizona Game and Fish and the Nevada Department of Wildlife to host the Tri-State Boating Safety Fair. The purpose of the event was to kick-off the boating season on the Colorado River and to raise awareness among area boaters of what the Tri-State region is doing to improve boating safety throughout the Colorado River region. All communication efforts for the day focused on the dangers of negligent operation and excessive speed, alcohol abuse while boating, carbon monoxide poisoning and the importance of wearing a Personal Flotation Device.

    Division of Boating and Water Ways | 2004 California Boating Safety Report