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What are the leading causes of fatal boating accidents?

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Boating is a popular recreational activity here in New York State. However, those operating a watercraft must take their responsibility seriously. Boating accidents are responsible for thousands of injuries and hundreds of deaths every year.

The good news is that the number of boating-related injuries and deaths has dropped considerably in the past two decades. However, according to the U.S. Coast Guard, last year, there were 626 fatalities (including 22 children under 13) and 2,613 injuries.

Some of the facts surrounding the fatal accidents last year shed light on how boating can be made safer. Where the data was known:

— Over 70 percent involved operators who lacked safety training.

— The leading cause of death was drowning (76 percent), and 85 percent of those victims weren’t wearing life jackets

— Open motorboats had the highest percentage of fatalities (46 percent).

Many of the fatal accidents were caused by the operator of the boat. Chief among those was alcohol use. That was followed by operator inattention and lack of experience, excessive speed, improper lookout and drug use.

Where the environment played a role, hazardous waters were by far the most common cause. That was followed by weather. Improper loading or overloading of the boat were factors in some fatal accidents, as were machinery and equipment failure.

When a friend or colleague invites us to go boating with them, we generally feel like it would be rude to ask to see their training and safety credentials. However, it’s a good idea to know how much experience the operator has with this type of vessel.

It’s also important to make sure that there are life jackets on board the boat and to watch out for unsafe behavior by the operator, like drinking or drug use. It’s also not a bad idea to check the weather reports yourself — particularly if you’re going to be in open waters.

If a loved one is killed as the result of a boating accident or drowning, it’s essential to ensure that the incident is thoroughly investigated. This can help you hold any responsible individuals or entities liable.

Source: American Boating Association, “Boating Fatality Facts,” accessed Oct. 12, 2016

Jason Fuiman

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Co-Managing Partner and Chair of O'Dwyer & Bernstien's Labor & Employee Benefits practice, Jason has over twenty years of experience in the New York legal industry.