2006 California Boating Safety Report
California Division of Boating and Waterways

Executive Summary

The California Division of Boating and Waterways (DBW) administers many programs to provide for boating safety on the State’s waterways. The 2006 California Boating Safety Report summarizes activities performed in three key safety program areas:

  • Boating accident analysis
  • Law enforcement
  • Safety education.

This report also highlights DBW’s current program enhancements and future safety initiatives designed to reduce accidents and make California’s waterways safer.

Through the boating accident program, DBW 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 DBW’s safety education programs and law enforcement training programs.

Exhibit ES-1, below, provides a summary of key boating accident statistics for 2006.

Exhibit ES-1
2006 California Boating Accident Summary Statistics

Overall Boating Accident Highlights

  • In 2006, a total of 757 boating accidents were reported to DBW, involving 445 injuries, 42 fatalities, and $8,913,375 in property damage.
  • About 41% of all vessels and 79% 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 (39%).
  • 18% of boating accidents, 20% of all injuries, and 7% of all fatalities occurred during the summer holiday periods of Memorial Day, Independence Day, and Labor Day.
  • 40% of reported accidents resulted from collisions with other vessels.
  • Operator inattention (43%) was the most common cause of boating accidents, followed by operator inexperience (27%), and excessive speed (23%). (Many accidents had more than one cause.)
  • Open motorboats were involved in 48% of all accidents. PWC were involved in 24%.
  • 63% of vessels involved in all accidents were less than 26 feet in length. 70% 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 and 41-50 age group were involved in more accidents than other age groups.
  • Accidents involving water skiing activities accounted for 12% of all accidents. (In this report, the term “water skiing” refers to all activities involving a vessel towing a person on a towline.) Water skiing accidents have been decreasing since 2003.

PWC Accident Statistics

  • PWC were involved in 24% of all accidents, 33% of all injuries, 12% of all fatalities, and 4% 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 54% since January 1998. Trends contributing to this result:
  • Accidents involving youths operating all types of vessels have decreased 54%.
  • PWC accidents involving radical maneuvers (such as wake jumping, donuts, and spraying other vessels) have decreased 48%.
  • 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 2006, PWC were involved in fewer accidents than traditional vessels. The 2006 data revealed that:
  • When controlled for hours under way, there would have been one accident for every 800 traditional vessels operating on California waterways, compared to one accident for every 901 PWC.
  • 79% of PWC involved in accidents were operated by someone other than the registered owner (54% were borrowed and 25% were rented).
  • 72% of PWC-related accidents and 40% of PWC-related fatalities resulted from collisions with other vessels.
  • The most common cause of PWC-related accidents involved operator inattention (64%), operator inexperience (53%), and excessive speed (50%). (Many accidents had more than one cause.)
  • 38% of PWC operators were aged 11-20 and were involved in more accidents than any other age group, followed by the 21-30 age group (24%)

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 54%, from 120 in 1997 to 55 in 2006.
  • During the 2006 boating season, a total of 63 youth operators were involved in 7% of all accidents, 12% of all injuries, and 5% of all fatalities.
  • Operator inexperience was a factor in 65% of accidents involving youth operators and was the most common cause of accidents involving them. Operator inexperience was a factor in only 27% of accidents involving operators of all ages.
  • 27 operators involved in accidents (43%) were under the age of 16. Three of those operators were under the age of 12.
  • Of the 21 operators under 16 years of age, 63% did not have an adult on board.
  • Collisions with other vessels accounted for 75% of accidents involving youth operators.
  • 90% of youth operators involved in accidents were operating a PWC.

Fatal Accident Statistics

  • Of the 42 fatalities in 2006, 62% occurred between May and September. 57% of all fatalities occurred on Saturday or Sunday.
  • 74% of all victims drowned. Of that group, 71% were not wearing a life jacket.
  • 48% of all boating fatalities were found to be alcohol-related, where testing could be conducted.
  • Six victims died during paddling activities. Nearly all of the victims died during whitewater activities.
  • 38% of all fatalities in 2006 were fishing-related. 50% of all fishing-related fatalities involved alcohol.
  • Of all fishing-related fatalities, 81% were the result of vessels capsizing or victims falling overboard. Fifteen of the victims drowned, and 1 victim died of trauma-related injuries. Of those who drowned, nearly all (93%) were not wearing a life jacket.
  • 39% of the vessels involved in fatal accidents were open motorboats, followed by paddle craft (18%).
  • The majority (70%) of vessels involved in fatal accidents were less than 26 feet in length.
  • Falls overboard (43%) and vessels capsizing (26%) were the most common types of fatal accidents.
  • The most common causes of fatalities were hazardous water conditions (26%), operator inattention (24%), and operator inexperience (21%). (Many accidents had more than one cause.)
  • Operators in the 41-50 age group were involved in more fatal boating accidents than any other age group.
  • 40% of fatalities occurred on lakes, 29% occurred on oceans/bays, 5% on the Colorado River, 14% on other rivers throughout the state, and 12% on the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta region.

DBW provides supplemental funding to counties for law enforcement activities and promotes uniform enforcement of boating laws through its law enforcement training program. In the 2005/06 fiscal year, the financial aid program allocated $8.1 million to 36 counties and 2 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 ES-2 provides a summary of law enforcement activities supported by DBW’s financial aid program. In 2006, the law enforcement training program included eight courses on various boating safety topics, in which Department staff trained 423 marine enforcement officers, while DBW’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, DBW sponsored a statewide radio and outdoor media campaign to promote life jacket use, environmental stewardship, and boating safety course participation. Exhibit ES-3 provides a summary of DBW’s safety education outreach programs.

Exhibit ES-3
2006 California Boating Safety Education Programs

Continuing Educational Programs

Educational Outreach to School Age Children

AquaSMART Elementary Education Program:

50,000 participating students

AquaSMART Live! Elementary Program:

48,000 participating students

AquaSMART Boating High School Education Program:

11,823 participating students

Poster Contest (14th Annual):

2,319 entries

General Educational Outreach

Home Study Course

35,000 courses distributed

Boat Shows

In 2006, DBW attended over 15 events and reached over 30,000 boaters.

Aquatic Center Grants

Grants were given to 37 organizations for scholarships for the purchase of boats, equipment, and related safety supplies, and approximately 80,000 individuals were trained.

Tri-State Boating Safety Fair

In partnership with the Arizona Game and Fish Department and the Nevada Department of Wildlife, DBW sponsored the second-annual Tri-State Boating Safety Fair on May 6, 2006.


In 2006, DBW distributed 1.2 million copies of boating safety literature to the public. DBW’s Public Information Unit publishes and distributes more than 50 different boating safety publications.

Spanish Language Outreach

DBW continues to provide the Spanish-speaking community with educational boating and safety literature.

Multimedia Boating Safety Awareness Campaign

DBW launched a new media campaign with a new slogan: If it’s your boat, it’s YOUR responsibility. This new campaign used victim testimonials to drive home the safety message. The campaign’s outdoor component consisted of permanently posted wall graphics and mobile billboards that visited marinas up and down the state on popular holiday weekends. The campaign also partnered with three television stations in Northern and Southern California for special-event promotions and life jacket giveaways.

DBW Safety Team

Between Memorial Day and Labor Day, the safety team’s “Responsibility” bannered pontoon boat made appearances at more than 40 marinas and launch ramps in 2006. Over 2,000 boating safety quizzes were taken during the promotional period.

Get Hooked on H2O

DBW continued its campaign promote water as the boater’s choice of beverages by partnering with AM1470 Radio Disney, CBS Radio, and Togo’s. The campaign reminds collective clients/audiences in Northern California to drink water, not alcohol, while boating and wear your life jacket. Additionally, DBW and AM 1470 Radio Disney sponsored “Kid Casters,” a casting call for children 14 and under to audition to produce boating safety messages for the airwaves.

Life Jacket Loan Program

DBW continues the Life Jacket Loan Program, partnering with fire stations and other voluntary venues to offer free short-term life jacket use for the public. Loan locations have gradually increased over the years to extend beyond the Greater Sacramento area and the location list is posted on DBW’s website.

T-Shirt Program

DBW continues partnering with marine law enforcement units, the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, and the U.S. Power Squadrons to distribute T-shirts aimed at increasing the use of life jackets by children under the age of 13.

National Safe Boating Week Events

During National Safe Boating Week, the week before Memorial Day weekend, DBW sponsored the following events:

  • Life Jacket Trade-Ins—DBW partnered with Radio Disney, CBS Radio, and 13 Sam’s club stores statewide to host trade-ins. Life jackets were offered free to the first 50 persons at each store who brought in children’s life jackets that were outgrown or were deteriorated and unusable.
  • DBW partnered with aquatic centers throughout the state to put on boating safety events including on-the-water safety instruction.
  • Release of boating accident statistics
  • News releases featuring boating safety tips
  • Interviews with the media.

Other Programs

Safe Kids Coalition

DBW participates on the Greater Sacramento Safe Kids Coalition under the Drowning Prevention subcommittee. As a river city, that also has a number of lakes and the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta in close proximity, Sacramento has a need to protect its children from drowning when boating or recreating near the water. DBW provides educational materials for outreach to the community and expertise on open water activities and incidents.

California Clean Green Boating Network

DBW continues to participate in the California Clean Boating Network (CCBN). This network consists of a collaboration of government, environmental, business, boating and academic organizations working to increase and improve clean boating education efforts in California. Through the exchange of information and consideration of new trends in clean boating practices, CCBN members increase their ability to educate the boating public about clean boating practices.

Abandoned Watercraft Abatement Program

DBW 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 the 2005/06 fiscal year, a total of $499,662 was allocated to 11 public agencies for the removal and disposal of abandoned vessels and other substantial hazards to navigation.

New programs developed in 2006 focus on improving public outreach and expanding law enforcement training. Enhancements to existing programs reflect changing accident statistics and key safety concerns. Exhibit ES-4 presents a summary of 2006 program enhancements and initiatives.

Exhibit ES-4
2006 California Boating Safety Program Enhancements

Program Enhancements for 2006

Media Outreach

Television Boating Safety Promotion

DBW partnered with the San Diego area XETV to heighten awareness of boating and water safety in the San Diego area prior to the Memorial Day weekend in 2006. The television station also produced and aired five 15-second “Safety Announcements” during the week leading up to the holiday weekend and focused on the importance of wearing a life jacket, taking a boating safety course, and sober boating. On the Friday before Memorial Day, the station’s morning show reporter conducted “live” interviews on-location with local marine patrol officers and the aquatic center director on the importance of wearing a life jacket and taking a boating safety course. A life jacket trade-in followed on-site and “Safety Totes” were made available to viewers via an online contest at the station’s website.

Additional successful television “Safety Promotion” partnerships with recorded PSAs by television news anchor personalities were done with Redding TV station KRCR for Independence Day weekend and then with Sacramento TV station KMAX for Labor Day weekend.

Spanish Language

The Sacramento Univision television station gave DBW the opportunity to relay boating safety information to the Spanish-speaking community. Live feed interviews took place during the summer months.

Other Outreach to the Public

Life Jacket Loan Program

In 2006, an additional life jacket loan site was established at Lake Berryessa. A current list of locations for the Life Jacket Loan Program can be found on the DBW website at www.dbw.ca.gov/BoaterInfo/LifeJacket.aspx.

Brochure—Boating Safety Classes

DBW completed work on a brochure that promotes hands-on boating safety courses and contains information on classes offered by aquatic centers have partnered with DBW. This brochure is currently in distribution.