2005 California Boating Safety Report

Section 2

Boating Accident Program

This section summarizes 2005 boating accident statistics. The California Division of Boating and Waterways, law enforcement agencies, the United States Coast Guard, educational institutions, and California boaters use these statistics to help improve boating safety.

A. Limitations of the Analysis

Reportable Accidents

The statistics in this report reflect every reported boating accident in California in 2005. Although the Department believes that all accidents involving fatalities were reported, many non-fatal accidents are never reported to the Department or law enforcement agencies due to noncompliance with, or ignorance of, the reporting law. The U.S. Coast Guard estimates that only about 10% of accidents are actually reported to state programs nationwide.

An increase in the number of reported accidents from year to year might not necessarily reflect an increase in the actual number of accidents, but rather might result from improved reporting efforts or research from other sources (e.g., newsclippings). To improve the accuracy of accident statistics, the Department has increased its efforts to obtain all accident reports by working closely with law enforcement agencies.

Accident Statistics

A total of 800 accidents were reported to the Department in 2005. Some statistics in this report are measured as a percentage of these total accidents. Often, there is more than one cause of an accident, more than one operator involved in an accident, or more than one vessel involved. Therefore, the number of vessels, like the number of operators involved in accidents, usually exceeds the number of accidents. A total of 969 operators were involved in boating accidents in 2005. Many statistics presented in this report are measured as a percentage of the number of operators involved or the number of causes—rather than the 800 accidents—in order to provide more accurate comparisons.

Alcohol Use

Analysis of alcohol-related accidents can be complicated for the following reasons:

B. Findings

The 800 accidents reported to the Department during 2005 involved 428 injuries, 58 fatalities, and nearly $3.6 million in property damage. The number of accidents and fatalities were higher than 2004 totals. The number of injuries and property damage were less than 2004 totals. (744 accidents, 439 injuries, 44 fatalities, and $4 million in property damage).

The total number of boating accidents increased 8% from 744 in 2004 to 800 in 2005.

Exhibit II-1 presents boating accident statistics in California from 1980 through 2005.

Exhibit II-1
1980-2005 California Boating Accident Statistics


Year
Number of
Accidents
Number of
Injuries
Number of
Fatalities
Amount of
Property Damage
1980
657
270
112
$2,039,800
1981
728
319
87
$3,655,630
1982
696
323
103
$2,497,000
1983
648
333
95
$3,713,100
1984
791
341
93
$2,491,700
1985
869
403
76
$4,246,400
1986
741
319
68
$2,645,500
1987
905
325
54
$3,381,600
1988
745
333
51
$2,396,100
1989
632
371
43
$3,669,800
1990
761
416
50
$3,131,200
1991
750
421
58
$2,653,800
1992
689
447
59
$4,360,100
1993
743
434
67
$2,052,800
1994
709
386
40
$1,740,300
1995
833
490
52
$2,536,500
1996
850
537
56
$2,241,700
1997
925
526
43
$3,266,800
1998
772
413
58
$2,299,600
1999
907
491
42
$2,864,000
2000
906
524
51
$3,038,400
2001
907
502
48
$2,841,900
2002
911
468
53
$3,732,850
2003
963
502
61
$3,820,000
2004
744
439
44
$4,073,400
2005
800
428
58
$3,578,700

Exhibit II-2 presents 2005 boating accident statistics by county.

Exhibit II-2
2005 California Boating Accidents by County


County
Number of
Accidents
Number of
Injuries
Number of
Fatalities
Amount of
Property Damage
Alameda
7
4
0
$41,700
Amador
4
1
0
$7,500
Butte
11
3
1
$114,000
Calaveras
17
16
0
$36,500
Colusa
1
0
0
$1,700
Contra Costa
23
21
0
$60,050
El Dorado
10
4
2
$27,050
Fresno
27
15
2
$82,100
Glenn
3
3
0
$0
Humboldt
1
1
1
$550
Imperial
4
2
1
$6,700
Kern
12
6
4
$25,450
Lake
13
14
4
$39,550
Lassen
1
0
0
$2,900
Los Angeles
42
8
2
$324,450
Madera
3
0
0
$5,750
Marin
5
1
1
$9,800
Mariposa
7
5
0
$14,750
Mendocino
6
4
1
$32,000
Merced
1
1
2
$0
Monterey
9
7
1
$11,100
Napa
48
25
2
$155,500
Nevada
5
3
2
$700
Orange
87
19
2
$956,800
Placer
28
16
0
$86,850
Plumas
1
1
0
$0
Riverside
49
30
2
$113,450
Sacramento
14
5
2
$51,000
San Bernardino
47
38
5
$250,800
San Diego
87
59
2
$327,600
San Francisco
11
9
0
$148,950
San Joaquin
51
19
2
$254,100
San Luis Obispo
12
6
1
$55,900
San Mateo
8
1
0
$16,400
Santa Barbara
3
0
1
$4,000
Santa Clara
13
6
0
$17,700
Santa Cruz
2
1
0
$10,000
Shasta
48
28
4
$102,950
Sierra
1
0
0
$9,200
Siskiyou
1
1
0
$2,000
Solano
6
2
2
$8,150
Sonoma
5
1
1
$3,850
Stanislaus
13
13
0
$20,550
Sutter
1
0
0
$1,500
Tehama
6
6
1
$2,850
Trinity
3
2
0
$1,300
Tulare
13
6
0
$13,150
Tuolumne
17
8
3
$76,450
Ventura
11
6
3
$43,050
Yolo
1
1
0
$300
Yuba
1
0
1
$50
Totals
800
428
58
$3,578,700

Type and Cause of Accidents

Exhibit II-3 presents types and causes of accidents by vessel type. Overall, the most common type of accident involved collision with another vessel (36%). Open motorboats and personal watercraft were the most common types of vessels involved in accidents and were involved in 51% and 25% of accidents respectively. The most common type of accident involving open motorboats was collision with another vessel (29%), followed by accidents involving skier mishaps (19%). Most accidents involving PWC were collisions with other vessels (66%), followed by falls overboard (20%).

Exhibit II-3
Types and Causes of 2005 California Boating Accidents by Vessel Type

Open
Motorboats
Personal
Watercraft
Other
Vessels
All
Vessels
Types of
Accidents
Collision
with Vessel
29%
Collision
with Vessel
66%
Collision
with Vessel
44%
Collision
with Vessel
36%
Skier Mishap
19%
Falls Overboard
20%
Flooding/Swamping
14%
Flooding/Swamping
13%
Flooding/Swamping
16%
Grounding
5%
Sinking
12%
Sinking
11%
Struck by Boat
5%
Open
Motorboats
Personal
Watercraft
Other
Vessels
All
Vessels
Causes of Accidents
Operator Inattention
44%
Operator Inexperience
64%
Operator Inattention
36%
Operator Inattention
41%
Operator Inexperience
30%
Operator Inattention
56%
Operator Inexperience
27%
Operator Inexperience
35%
Excessive
Speed
23%
Excessive
Speed
54%
Excessive
Speed
12%
Excessive
Speed
25%

The most frequently stated causes of accidents overall were operator inattention (41%) operator inexperience (35%), and excessive speed (25%). (A boating accident can have more than one attributable cause.)

The leading causes of accidents involving open motorboats were operator inattention and operator inexperience. The leading causes of accidents involving PWC were operator inexperience and operator inattention.

Overall, these types and causes were consistent with previous years.

Time and Location

Accidents occurred mostly during the summer months (May through September), on weekends, and between 2:00 p.m. and 4:00 p.m.

Of the 800 boating accidents, 147 (18%) occurred during the three holiday periods of Memorial Day, Independence Day, and Labor Day. During these periods, 76 injuries (18%) and 10 fatalities (17%) also occurred.

Exhibit II-4 presents the accidents, injuries, and fatalities by location. Overall, most accidents and injuries occurred on lakes, 49% and 54% respectively, and more occurred on northern lakes. These percentages have increased from 44% and 47% in 2004.

Exhibit II-4
2005 California Boating Accidents by Location

Location
Number of Accidents
Number of Injuries
Number of Fatalities
Northern Lakes
254
155
19
Southern Lakes
140
75
7
Northern Rivers
16
8
7
Southern Rivers
5
3
3
Northern Coast
13
4
1
Southern Coast
206
75
10
San Francisco Bay Area
27
15
0
Delta
85
44
6
Colorado River
54
49
5
TOTAL
800
428
58

Vessel Type and Length

In 2005, open motorboats accounted for approximately 49% of all vessels registered in California, and PWC accounted for 19%. Open motorboats were involved in 51% of all accidents and PWC were involved in 25% of all accidents. This indicates that although accidents involving PWC decreased dramatically, they were involved in a somewhat disproportionately high number of accidents. However, the number of PWC involved in accidents has decreased substantially in the last eight years and has decreased 48% since 1997, when accidents involving these vessels were at an all-time high of 391. Most vessels (66%) involved in accidents were less than 26 feet long.

Exhibit II-5 presents registration and accident statistics for open motorboats, PWC, and other vessels during 2005.

Exhibit II-5
2005 Registration and Accident Statistics for Open Motorboats, PWC, and Other Vessels




* These figures are estimates, based on Department of Motor Vehicles registration categories.
** The sum of the percentages does not equal 100 percent because some accidents, injuries, and fatalities involve multiple types of vessels.

Operator Age

Overall, operators in the 21-30 age group were involved in accidents more often than those in any other age group, followed by operators in the 41-50 and 31-40 age groups. The 41-50 age group was involved most often in open motorboat-related accidents, followed by the 21-30 age group. The 11-20 age group was involved most often in PWC-related accidents, followed closely by the 21-30 age group.

Operator Owner Status

39% of all vessels involved in accidents were operated by the registered owner. About 39% of vessels were operated by someone other than the registered owner (30% were borrowed and 9% were rented).

Representative Accidents

C. Accidents Involving Personal Watercraft

Background

A personal watercraft is a small vessel that uses an internal combustion engine powering a jet pump or propeller. It is designed to carry from one to four persons, and to be operated by a person sitting, standing, or kneeling on the vessel rather than in the conventional manner of sitting or standing inside the vessel.

The use of a PWC is subject to all state, local, and federal regulations governing the operation of all powerboats of similar size.

As of December 31, 2006, there were 187,503 PWC registered in California, comprising 19% of registered vessels. Exhibit II-6 shows the total number of PWC registered in California from 1993 through 2005.

Exhibit II-6
1993-2005 California PWC Registrations

Findings

A total of 203 PWC-related accidents were reported in 2005, resulting in 155 injuries, 7 fatalities, and $467,250 in property damage. Totals for accidents, injuries, and property damage were higher than 2004 levels (186, 148, and 293,300 respectively) and the number of fatalities remained unchanged.

Exhibit II-7 presents a 13-year summary for PWC accidents, injuries, fatalities, and property damage.

Exhibit II-7
1993-2005 California PWC Accident Statistics


Year
Number of
Accidents
Number of
Injuries
Number of
Fatalities
Amount of
Property Damage
1993
248
178
5
$306,900
1994
257
178
7
$294,800
1995
353
226
6
$579,550
1996
385
298
8
$508,300
1997
391
276
8
$709,450
1998
229
161
9
$384,050
1999
264
215
6
$447,550
2000
293
238
6
$436,650
2001
273
216
5
$465,200
2002
253
188
7
$524,250
2003
261
200
12
$483,500
2004
186
148
7
$293,300
2005
203
155
7
$467,250

Exhibit II-8 presents 2005 reported PWC-related accidents by county.

Exhibit II-8
2005 California PWC-Related Accidents by County


County
Number of
Accidents
Number of
Injuries
Number of
Fatalities
Amount of
Property Damage
Amador
2
1
0
$1,000
Calaveras
6
6
0
$17,000
Contra Costa
5
11
0
$15,350
El Dorado
3
0
1
$17,000
Fresno
8
9
0
$19,200
Glenn
2
2
0
$0
Imperial
2
2
1
$1,700
Kern
7
2
2
$24,450
Lake
3
2
0
$1,150
Los Angeles
4
1
0
$8,600
Madera
1
0
0
$1,750
Mariposa
1
3
0
$200
Mendocino
1
1
0
$0
Monterey
4
4
0
$5,600
Napa
11
4
1
$17,500
Orange
4
2
0
$1,400
Placer
14
9
0
$45,650
Riverside
34
23
0
$91,600
Sacramento
3
2
1
$19,150
San Bernardino
13
14
0
$17,350
San Diego
26
24
0
$55,400
San Joaquin
8
4
0
$25,150
San Luis Obispo
3
5
0
$7,250
Santa Clara
6
1
0
$6,800
Shasta
4
2
0
$3,550
Sierra
1
0
0
$9,200
Siskiyou
1
1
0
$2,000
Stanislaus
8
10
0
$14,400
Tehama
2
2
0
$1,850
Tulare
8
4
0
$4,550
Tuolumne
5
2
0
$30,150
Ventura
2
1
1
$1,000
Yolo
1
1
0
$300
Totals
203
155
7
$467,250

Accounting for 19% of registered vessels, PWC were involved in 25% of accidents, 36% of injuries, 12% of fatalities, and 13% of property damage.

Accidents involving PWC continue to remain significantly lower than the 1997 totals of 391 accidents, a decrease of 48%.

For a number of years, PWC-related accidents have been on a downward trend. This long-standing decrease appears to be attributable mainly to two laws affecting PWC that took effect in January 1998. The first law prohibited activities such as wake jumping within 100 feet of another vessel, spraying down other vessels, and playing “chicken.” These activities now constitute endangerment of life, limb, and property. The second law raised the minimum age to operate a vessel of over 15 HP alone from 12 to 16 years of age. Since the vessel of choice of operators between 12 and 16 is the PWC, restricting this group’s ability to operate vessels has resulted in a decrease in PWC-related accidents. This reduction in accidents is also discussed in the subsection E (Accidents Involving Youths).

PWC accidents involving radical maneuvers such as wake jumping, donuts, and spraying other vessels fell from 88 in 1997 to 37 in 2005, a decrease of 58%.

Accidents involving youth operators fell from 120 in 1997 to 46 in 2005, a decrease of 62%.

Type and Cause of Accidents

Overall Accidents

Most reported PWC accidents involved collisions with other vessels (66%). 20% of accidents involved falls overboard. Vessels grounding and persons struck by boats each accounted for 5% of accidents.

An examination of the 134 collisions involving PWC reveals that 78 (58%) involved a PWC colliding with a second PWC.

The most common causes of all PWC accidents were operator inexperience (64%), operator inattention (56%), and excessive speed (54%). (Some accidents have more than one attributable cause.) All of these causes are operator-controllable factors.

Operator Age

PWC operators in the 11-20 age group were involved in more accidents than any other age group followed closely by the 21-30 age group.

Operator Owner Status

68% of PWC involved in accidents were operated by someone other than the registered owner (52% were borrowed and 16% were rented).

Boater Use Study

Several years ago, the Department noted the disproportionately high number of PWC-related accidents when compared to their registered numbers. For example, in 1994, PWC constituted 13% of the vessel population, but were involved in 36% of the accidents. However, if PWC spent more time underway than conventional boats, would the accident rate still be disproportionate? To answer this concern, the Department funded a study that was conducted by California State University Sacramento to survey boat owners to determine the amount of time boats were under way.

The study, conducted in 1995 and 1996, found that, for every day on the water, PWC spent 5.2 hours underway, while conventional vessels only spent 3.6 hours under way. However, when controlled for hours under way (that is, if conventional boats spent the same amount of time on the water as PWC), the study found that the number of accidents and injury-related accidents involving PWC still exceeded those involving conventional boats.

Since changes in law noted earlier in this chapter, the number of PWC-related accidents has decreased substantially in the last seven years. In 2005, traditional vessels were involved in more accidents than PWC. The 2005 data show that when controlled for hours under way, there would have been one accident for every 812 traditional vessels operating on California waterways, compared to one accident for every 924 PWC.

Additional Safety Concerns

D. Accidents Involving Water Skiing

In this report, the term “water skiing” refers to all activities involving a vessel towing a person on a towline.

Findings

In 2005, a total of 107 accidents involving water skiing activities were reported to the Department, resulting in 96 injuries and 4 fatalities. The accidents accounted for 13% of all accidents, 22% of injuries, and 7% of fatalities. Water skiing accidents decreased 10% compared with 2004 totals.

In recent years, the sport of water skiing has evolved beyond traditional water skiing and now encompasses the towing of inner tubes, wakeboards, kneeboards, wake skates, wake surfers, and air chairs. This year marked the sixth year that accidents involving wakeboards exceeded accidents involving traditional water skiing.

Accidents involving wakeboard accounted for 39% of water skiing accidents, followed by innertubes 33%, and traditional water skiing (25%).

Time and Location

92% of water skiing accidents occurred between May and September. 64% of water skiing-related accidents occurred in Northern California and 36% in Southern California. The most popular bodies of water were lakes (77%), followed by the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta (8%) and the southern coast (7%) and the Colorado River (7%).

Vessel Type and Length

Of the vessels involved in water skiing accidents, (97%) were open motorboats, followed by PWC (2%) and cabin motorboats (1%).

Type and Cause of Accidents

Exhibit II-9 provides a breakdown of the 2005 reported water skiing activities by situation.

Exhibit II-9
2005 California Water Skiing Accidents by Situation

Water skiing accidents, in which the skier was responsible for the accident, accounted for 51% of the accidents. These accidents most often involved inexperienced skiers, who were injured while attempting to stand up or who attempted maneuvers beyond their experience level.

49% of accidents involved a variety of unsafe behaviors, both by operators towing skiers and also by other vessels operating in the vicinity of vessels towing skiers. A number of accidents involved inappropriate handling of ski lines by operators and skiers. Consistent with other years, the most common situations involved:

E. Accidents Involving Youths

Background

Throughout this report, “youths” refers to persons under 18 years of age.

From 1987 through 1997, California law required a person to be at least 12 years of age to operate a craft of more than 10 HP. If an operator was under 12, a person 18 years of age or older had to be on board the vessel.

In 1998, the law changed; it now requires the operator of a craft of more than 15 HP to be at least 16 years of age. Persons 12-15 may operate if a person of at least 18 years of age is attentively supervising aboard the vessel.

Note: Exceptions to this law include the operation of a sailboat that does not exceed 30 feet in length or a dinghy used directly between a moored boat and the shore, or between two moored boats.

Findings

During the 2005 boating season, youth operators were involved in 6% of all accidents, 10% of injuries. There were no fatalities in 2005 involving youth operators.

Exhibit II-10 presents an 13-year summary for youth operator accident statistics.

Exhibit II-10
1993-2005 California Youth Operator Accidents


Year
Number of
Operators
Number of
Accidents
Number of
Injuries
Number of
Fatalities
1993
77
67
51
7
1994
99
86
63
3
1995
135
110
80
1
1996
136
117
95
3
1997
140
120
87
2
1998
81
70
51
6
1999
73
63
56
2
2000
94
80
72
2
2001
107
88
92
0
2002
90
79
68
2
2003
99
83
72
8
2004
65
51
44
2
2005
57
46
42
0

The number of accidents involving youths had remained consistent for three years prior to the 1998 boating season. However, since the previously mentioned operator age limit increase took effect in January 1998, there has been a substantial decrease in the number of accidents involving operators under 16 years of age. The total number of accidents involving all youth operators is 62% lower than the number reported in 1997.

Of the 57 youth operators involved in accidents, 21 (37%) were under the age of 16, and 5 were under the age of 12. Of the operators younger than 16 years of age, 67% were operating illegally by either not having an adult on board, or, when the operator was younger than 12, operating the vessel under any circumstance. The percentage of underage operators operating illegally has decreased from 72% in 2004.

Type and Cause of Accidents

Collisions (76%) were the primary type of accident involving youth operators, followed by persons struck by boats (7%), falls overboard (7%) and grounding (4%).

The most common cause of accidents involving youth operators was operator inexperience (78%). Operator inexperience was a factor in only 35% of accidents involving operators of all ages. Excessive speed and operator inattention were the second most common causes; each were a factor in 52% of accidents.

Vessel Type

The vast majority (89%) of youth operators involved in accidents were operating PWC. An additional 5% were operating open motorboats.

Fault Assessment

Youth operators were involved in 35 collisions with other vessels. Most of these collisions (71%) involved youth operators colliding with adult operators. Youth operators were exclusively at fault in 68% of these collisions, compared to 32% for adult operators.

Additional Safety Concerns

Very young children riding on PWC can present serious safety problems. While riding in front of an operator, a child has easy access to the vessel controls and can easily manipulate them. Such situations have resulted in accidents. Seating a young child behind a PWC operator is unsafe as well, because he or she can easily fall overboard.

Additionally, in a previous year, a lanyard was left attached on a drifting, unoccupied PWC. A small child playing in the area climbed aboard, pressed the start button and shot across the water, striking a swimmer, who later died of serious head injuries.

F. Fatal Boating Accidents

Findings

In 2005, 58 fatalities occurred on California waterways. This represents 6 fatalities per 100,000 registered vessels. The number of fatalities increased from 44 in 2004 (4.9 per 100,000 registered vessels).

Type and Cause of Accidents

The most common type of fatal accident involved vessels capsizing (36%), falls overboard (33%), and collisions with vessels (9%). Operator inexperience (36%), hazardous weather/water conditions (33%), operator inattention (29%), and excessive speed (22%), were the primary causes of fatalities. 78% of the victims drowned. Of that group, 76% were not wearing a life jacket.

Time and Location

The largest number of fatalities occurred in July. 43% of fatalities occurred during the off-season of October through April. 57% of fatalities occurred on a Saturday or Sunday, 45% of fatalities occurred on lakes, 19% occurred on oceans/bays, 9% occurred on the Colorado River, 17% on other rivers throughout the State, and 10% occurred in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta region. 57% of fatalities occurred in Northern California compared with 43% in Southern California.

Vessel Type and Length

46% of the vessels involved in fatal accidents were open motorboats, followed by PWC (16%), paddle craft (16%), sailboats (7%) and cabin motorboats (5%). Even though PWC were involved in 25% of all accidents, they were not involved in as many fatalities. PWC operators are more likely to wear life jackets, which may explain the lower fatality rate. Nearly all vessels involved in fatal accidents were less than 26 feet in length (80%).

Victim Activity

Exhibit II-11 presents boating fatalities by type of activity and life jacket usage.

Exhibit II-11
2005 California Boating Fatalities by Type of Accident and Life Jacket Usage

Fishing-Related Fatalities

Fishing-related fatalities accounted for 13 boating fatalities (22%) in 2005. Nine victims drowned and three others died of hypothermia, and one died of cardiac arrest brought on by the trauma of being in the water. 69% of the victims were not wearing a life jacket.

The majority (69%) of victims of fishing-related accidents were boating in Northern California. The most common location of these accidents were lakes, followed by rivers and the Sacramento/San Joaquin Delta.

The majority of the fishing-related fatalities occurred as a result of victims falling overboard (38%) or vessels capsizing (23%).

Paddle Sport Fatalities

Eight victims died while engaged in paddle sport activities, the largest number of victims since 1998. Seven victims died during whitewater activities and one victim died while sea kayaking.

Seven of the fatalities were the result of vessels capsizing and the remaining victim fell overboard. All of the victims drowned. Most (63%) were wearing their life jackets. Strong currents pulled them beneath the surface of the water despite their jackets being worn.

Operator inexperience was a factor in 75% of the fatalities. Most of the fatalities occurred during the spring snow melt run-off when river levels were very high. In several cases, warnings had been issued that the river conditions were treacherous.

Carbon Monoxide-Related Fatalities

The inhalation of carbon monoxide fumes was a factor in one fatality in 2005. During the last several years, some victims have died as a result of carbon monoxide poisoning. Dangerous behaviors include:

Boating fatalities involving carbon monoxide may be much higher than reported. In the past, some drowning accidents thought to be swimming-related may have involved carbon monoxide. The Department is increasing educational efforts to educate boaters and accident investigators about carbon monoxide in the boating environment.

G. Alcohol Use and Fatal Boating Accidents

Background

In 1987, state law made it illegal to operate a recreational vessel with a blood alcohol level of 0.10% or more. In 1991, the legal limit was decreased to 0.08%. Furthermore, a “boating under the influence” conviction now appears on Department of Motor Vehicles records and can be used to suspend or revoke a vehicle driver’s license.

For the purpose of this analysis, only fatal boating accidents were analyzed for alcohol relatedness. A person with a blood alcohol level of 0.035% or higher is assumed to be “under the influence.” The National Transportation Safety Board has determined that when the concentration of alcohol in a person’s bloodstream reaches this level, noticeable changes in judgment and operational competency occur.

As discussed on page 12, testing was not conducted on all victims due to delayed accident reporting or delayed body recovery, which can alter blood alcohol levels.

Findings

Of the 58 fatalities, blood alcohol information was available in 49 of the cases. Of these 49 cases, 20 victims or operators (41%) had blood alcohol levels equal to or greater than 0.035%.

Type and Cause of Accidents

The majority of alcohol-related boating fatalities were the result of falls overboard (35%), vessels capsizing (25%) and collisions with vessels (15%). Excessive speed (35%), operator inattention (35%), and operator inexperience (35%) were the leading causes of accidents. (Some accidents had more than one cause.)

80% of the victims drowned. Of this group, only one was wearing a life jacket.

Type of Vessel

A total of 23 vessels were involved in these accidents, 19 of which were motorized. The two most common types of vessels involved were open motorboats (43%) and PWC (22%). 91% of all vessels involved were less than 26 feet in length.

Time and Location

Of the 20 alcohol-related fatalities, 60% occurred on weekends. 55% occurred in Northern California and 45% in Southern California.

Activity

Half of the fatalities took place during general recreational activities. Four took place during fishing activities, three during paddling activities, two while swimming from vessels, and one during water skiing activities.

Profile of Intoxicated Boaters

An examination of the 20 alcohol-related fatalities reveals that 13 were operators, 4 were passengers, two were swimmers, and one was a water skier. As in previous years, several of the victims who were not operators contributed to their deaths due to their level of alcohol consumption.

These findings relating to intoxicated passengers or other occupants were consistent with findings from other years. Persons other than the operator who are under the influence often put themselves in dangerous positions in the boating environment, engaging in activities such as leaning over or sitting on gunwales or jumping from one vessel to another. Additionally, intoxicated passengers often stand in or move about in vessels, causing them to fall overboard, or the vessel to capsize, placing all aboard in danger. Persons also swim too close to propellers, causing danger to themselves.

These situations underscore the Department’s long-held view that a sober operator does not ensure passenger safety. Intoxicated persons in or around vessels are exposed to dangers that would not affect the safety of intoxicated passengers in a vehicle. The “designated driver” concept, which is popular in some boating safety literature, has its roots in automobile safety where the possibility of falling overboard and drowning (or in some years, swimming too close to the propeller) is not a factor. Therefore, based upon the findings of these fatalities and others from other years, the Department recommends that neither operators nor passengers drink alcoholic beverages while boating.

Alcohol-Related Fatalities Involving Motorized Vessels

In January 1986, the Department submitted the Boating Safety Report to the California Legislature. This report analyzed alcohol-related boating accidents between November 1, 1983 and October 31, 1985, and concluded that 59% of all fatalities involving motorized vessels were alcohol-related (where testing could be conducted).

The Department conducted a second alcohol-related boating accident study between January 1, 1993, and December 31, 1994. This study concluded that 23% of all fatalities involving motorized vessels were alcohol related, a significant reduction from the 1986 study.

Exhibit II-12 shows the percentage of alcohol-related fatalities involving motorized vessels (where alcohol-related testing could be conducted) from 1993 to 2005. In 2005, 40 of the 49 victims tested for alcohol-relatedness were killed in accidents involving motorized vessels. Of that group, 16 (40%) were alcohol-related.

Exhibit II-12
1993-2005 Alcohol-Related Fatalities Involving Motorized Vessels

Year
Percent of Alcohol-Related Fatalities
Involving Motorized Vessels
1993
33%
1994
11%
1995
34%
1996
39%
1997
48%
1998
14%
1999
25%
2000
39%
2001
28%
2002
53%
2003
21%
2004
42%
2005
40%