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Drunk Driving Often the Culprit in Boating Accidents

Jason Reese


  • Last year in Indiana, injury and fatality rates related to boating and recreational water vessels remained steady while the U.S. Coast Guard’s Boating Safety Division reported a national increase in both accidents and deaths.
  • Operator inexperience, lack of life-vest usage, and an increase in drunk or drugged boaters contributed to the uptick in personal injuries and tragic fatalities.
  • The recent warming of spring temperatures is likely to have many boaters ready to make some waves but not before officials say operators should be well educated on boater safety and have greater awareness about the causes behind the severity of accidents on the water.
  • All boaters, including passengers, should be educated, responsible, and sober water enthusiasts and help keep Indiana’s boating accident and fatal injury reports in check.

Despite Safety Efforts, Recreational Vessels and Boating Accidents Remain in National Upward Trend

As Indiana lakes and waterways start their annual warm-up, outdoor enthusiasts will be eager to get out and engage in their favorite water activities with the return of boating season. That excitement shouldn’t overshadow the fact that boating and related recreational vessel accidents have seriously injured and killed many Hoosiers in previous years and will continue to replay if operators and their passengers choose to engage in poor safety practices.

In Indiana, accident, injury, and death rates related to boating have remained steady and fortunately do not reflect the national upward trend in devastating water incidences. In 2016, 40 accidents were reported in the state, down three from 2015. While the numbers are still more than most should be comfortable with, the U.S. Coast Guard’s Boating Safety Division reports a national increase in both boating accidents and deaths in its most recent Recreational Boating Statistics review. In 2016, the Coast Guard counted 4,463 accidents that involved 701 deaths, 2,903 injuries and approximately $49 million dollars of damage to property as a result of recreational boating accidents. Additional findings for 2016 included:

  • The fatality rate was 5.9 deaths per 100,000 registered recreational vessels. This rate represents a 11.3 percent increase from last year’s fatality rate of 5.3 deaths per 100,000 registered recreational vessels.
  • Compared to 2015, the number of accidents increased 7.3 percent, the number of deaths increased 12 percent, and the number of injuries increased 11.1 percent.
  • Where cause of death was known, 80 percent of fatal boating accident victims drowned. Of those drowning victims with reported life jacket usage, 83 percent were not wearing a life jacket.
  • Eight out of every ten boaters who drowned were using vessels less than 21 feet in length.

Most shocking of all is that 77 percent of deaths occurred on boats where the operator did not receive boating safety instruction compared to the 13 percent of deaths where the operator had received a nationally-approved boating safety education certificate. Most boat operators are over the age of 36 and have an average of 100 – 500 hours of boating experience but little operator education.

Top Five Boating Accident Causes and Common Injuries

In Indiana, Lake Michigan and Lake Monroe are home to most statewide boating incidences resulting in both injuries and fatalities but accidents can happen on any lake, pond, reservoir, dam, river, stream, creek, bay, marina, harbor, channel or waterway used by boaters. July is typically the deadliest month for boating accidents with May, June, and August sitting closely behind. Most common accident causes include:

  1. Collision with Recreational Vessel
  2. Collision with Fixed Object
  3. Flooding or Swamping
  4. Grounding
  5. Capsizing

Vessel types with top injury and casualty numbers are open motorboats, personal watercrafts, cabin motorboats, canoes and kayaks, and pontoons. Injuries associated with boating accidents can vary and not limited to:

  • Amputation
  • Broken Bones
  • Burn
  • Carbon Monoxide
  • Concussion
  • Dislocation
  • Electric Shock
  • Hypothermia
  • Internal Organ Injury
  • Laceration
  • Scrapes and Bruises
  • Shock
  • Spinal Cord Injury
  • Sprain and Strain
  • Traumatic Brain Injury

Last year, Hoosiers made national news when a 20-year-old Fort Wayne woman (who prosecutors say was drunk) operated a 21-foot boat that spun out of control on Lake Gage in July, tossing passengers overboard. Two people were air lifted after one suffered a severe skull fracture and another with a partial lower arm amputation. Several others suffered non-life-threatening injuries. The summer evening incident required DNR officials to then corral the unmanned boat as it circled in the water at approximately 30 miles per hour before it was eventually slowed and stopped.

Impaired Boaters Likely to Blame in Accident Scenarios

Alcohol use and drug abuse remains the leading known contributing factors in fatal boating accidents; and where the primary cause was known. The U.S. Coast Guard listed alcohol and drugs as the leading factors in 15 percent of boating deaths.

Other contributing causes are:

  • Human Error
  • Operator Inattention or Distracted Boaters
  • Operator Inexperience
  • Improper Lookout
  • Excessive Speed
  • Machinery Failure
  • Weather
  • Navigation Rules Violation
  • Hazardous Waters
  • Force of Wave/Wake

Boat operators are responsible for the safety of all passengers and should demand everyone in their charge to wear a life jacket all the time. The U.S. Coast Guard estimates that life jackets could save the lives of over 80 percent of boating fatality victims. Officials say because accidents can and do happen with terrifying speed on the water, there’s rarely time to reach stowed life jackets.

If there is an accident, vessel operators and boat owners involved in a boating accident must stop and remain at the scene to give assistance, including ensuring that any injured person involved in the accident receives medical treatment. Operators involved in an accident must give his or her name and address, vessel registration number, and the name and address of the vessel’s owner to operators of other vessels and any person injured in the accident.

In Indiana, no one under 15-years-of-age may legally operate a motorboat greater than 10 horsepower or a personal water craft. Boaters who are 15-years-of-age may operate a motorboat or personal water craft until they become a licensed driver only if they complete a boater education course approved by the Indiana Department of Natural Resources and have an ID card on-board.

Spring and Summer Injury Season is Upon Us

If you have been injured in a boating or other recreational vehicle accident, the experienced attorneys at Wagner Reese would like to help you. We will fight on your behalf to recoup costs for medical services, therapeutic services, lost wages, property loss, and pain and suffering. If you have lost a loved one due to the wrongful actions of a water craft operator, our wrongful death lawyers can help you ensure financial security for your family moving forward.

Call us today for a risk-free, no-cost consultation at (888) 204-8440. We can also collect your information and call you back after you have completed our easy, online intake form.


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