Boating is a way of life for many South Carolinians, with the state’s coastal location and many inland waterways. But recreational boating can also be dangerous, as evidenced by the case of two 14-year-old boys who set off on a fishing trip off the coast of central Florida on July 24 and were never seen again. Their families recently called off the search for the boys. The U.S. Coast Guard searched 50,000 nautical miles in the days after their disappearance, including in the waters off South Carolina.
In a recent year, 98 boating accidents happened in South Carolina, killing 19 people and injuring 63, according to the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR). A total of 134 vessels were involved in these accidents out of the 362,061 boats and 29,320 personal watercraft registered in the state.
Nationally, 610 people died and 2,678 people were injured in 4,064 recreational boating accidents in 2014, according to the U.S. Coast Guard’s 2014 Recreational Boating Statistics. Those accidents cost $39 million in damage to property. The Coast Guard reported that 124 of those accidents occurred in South Carolina.
The Coast Guard defines a “reportable” boating accident as a vessel involved in any accident where “a death, missing person, personal injury, property damage or total vessel loss results from the vessel’s operation, construction, seaworthiness, equipment or machinery.” Examples of such accidents include when someone falls overboard, a grounding or sinking of a boat, carbon monoxide exposure, electrocution due to stray current in a vessel, a mishap with waterskiing or another towable device, a collision between two vessels and when a person is struck by a vessel or a propeller.
Boating Accidents By the Numbers
The Coast Guard’s Recreational Boating Statistics reveal that:
- Among boating accidents where the cause is known, 78 percent of those who died in boating accidents drowned.
- For drowning victims, 84 percent were not wearing a life jacket.
- In 2014, 12 children under the age of 14 died while boating. Seven of them drowned.
- The top five primary contributing factors in accidents were operator inattention, improper lookout, operator inexperience, excessive speed and use of alcohol.
- In accidents where the primary cause was known, alcohol was the leading factor in 21 percent of deaths.
- The most common types of vessels in reported accidents were open motorboats at 47 percent, followed by personal watercraft at 17 percent and cabin motorboats at 15 percent.
- The vessels with the highest percentage of deaths were open motorboats with 47 percent, followed by canoes with 13 percent and kayaks with 10 percent.
- Eight out of 10 boaters who drowned were using boats or other vessels less than 21 feet in length.
- In accidents where operator boating instruction is known, 23 percent of deaths happened on boats whose operators had taken boating safety training. Only 12 percent of deaths occurred on vessels whose operators had an education certificate from a nationally approved boating safety course.
Boater Education: A Real Lifesaver
These statistics show why boater education and following all laws and regulations is so important. It can save your life.
In South Carolina, boaters under the age of 16 are required by law to take an approved boater education course before they operate by themselves a personal watercraft such as a jet ski or a boat with a 15 or greater horsepower motor.
The SCDNR’s Boater Education Program aims to teach the fundamentals of safe and responsible boating. While only young boaters are required to take the course, the safety course is valuable for anyone who operates a marine vessel and could result in a discount on marine insurance.
The SCDNR offers two choices for boater education. The first choice, and the preferred method, is a free, six-hour instructor-led class. The free class can usually be done in one day and has a test at the end needed to pass the course. U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary also provides classes for a small fee.
The other option is an online study course, which includes interactive graphics. When you pass the online test at the end, you will receive a State of South Carolina boating safety certificate. The course costs $29.50 once you pass the test.
The SCDNR will accept any online course approved by the National Association of Safe Boating Law Administrators. For more information on South Carolina boater education, the SCDNR offers a Boating Handbook.
Follow the Rules of the Sea to Avoid an Accident
The SCDNR states that boating accidents can be prevented if operators follow these guidelines:
- Practice good seamanship. Operators have a responsibility to take all necessary actions to avoid a crash.
- Keep a proper lookout.
- Maintain a safe speed. Traveling at a safe speed ensures you will have enough time to avoid an accident. It’s also important to watch for no-wake zones.
Other important South Carolina boating regulations include:
- Vessels may not be operated in excess of idle speed within 50 feet of an anchored vessel, wharf, pier, dock or a person in the water. Vessels may not operate in excess of idle speed within 100 yards of the Atlantic coastline.
- All boats must have a personal flotation devices or life jackets for each person on board. Children 12 and under must wear a Coast-Guard-approved device while on a boat less than 16 feet long. Each person on a personal watercraft must wear a Coast-Guard-approved personal flotation device.
- All boats must have a sound-producing device. Boats from 39.4 to 65.6 feet must have both a whistle and a bell.
- Many vessels are required to carry a fire extinguisher, particularly if it has a permanently attached gas tank.
If you have been involved in a boat or personal watercraft accident, it’s important that you contact an experienced South Carolina personal injury attorney as soon as possible to protect your rights. You may be entitled to significant compensation.
- SCDNR – 2011 Boating Accident Statistics by County
- S. Coast Guard – 2014 Recreational Boating Statistics
- SCDNR – Boater Education
- SCDNR – The Handbook of South Carolina Boating Laws and Responsibilities
- SCDNR – 2015 – 2016 Boating Regulations