Recreational Boating Statistics 2023

An annual compilation of recreational boating statistics in the United States, compiled by the U.S. Coast Guard using data supplied by the U.S. states and territories. Recreational Boating Statistics 2023 was released on 28 May, 2024. New reports are published in early summer using certified data from the previous year.

Coast Guard releases 2023 recreational boating statistics

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Coast Guard released statistics on calendar year 2023 recreational boating incidents, revealing that there were 564 boating fatalities reported nationwide in 2023, a 11.3 percent decrease from the 636 deaths in 2022.

From 2022 to 2023, the total number of incidents decreased 4.9 percent (4,040 to 3,844), and the number of non-fatal injured victims decreased 4.3 percent (2,222 to 2,126).  

Alcohol continued to be the leading known contributing factor in fatal boating accidents in 2023, accounting for 79 deaths, or 17 percent of total fatalities.

The data also shows that in 2023:

  • The fatality rate was 4.9 deaths per 100,000 registered recreational vessels.  This rate represents a 9.3 percent decrease from last year’s fatality rate of 5.4 deaths per 100,000 registered recreational vessels.  (In 1971, when the Safe Boating Act was first passed, the fatality rate was 20.6 deaths per 100,000 registered recreational vessels.)
  • Property damage totaled $63 million.
  • Operator inattention, improper lookout, operator inexperience, excessive speed, and machinery failure ranked as the top five primary contributing factors in accidents.

“Boaters should remain vigilant on the water as most incidents occur when you might least expect them – in good visibility, calm waters, and little wind,” stated Capt. Amy Beach of the Coast Guard’s Office of Inspections and Compliance.  “The most frequent event involved collisions with other vessels, objects, or groundings, which is why it is so important to keep a proper lookout, navigate at a safe speed, adhere to navigation rules, and obey navigation aids.”

Beach continued, “the most frequent event in fatal incidents involved events where people ended up in the water.  A fall overboard, capsizing, and cases where a person voluntarily departed a vessel accounted for over half of fatal incidents.” Where the cause of death was known, 75 percent of fatal boating incident victims drowned. Of those drowning victims with reported life jacket usage, 87 percent were not wearing a life jacket.  The Coast Guard reminds boaters to wear their life jacket when underway and ensure that life jackets are serviceable, properly sized, correctly fastened, and appropriate for the activity.

Where boating instruction was known, 75 percent of deaths occurred on vessels where the operator had not received boating safety instruction.  The Coast Guard encourages all boaters to take a boating safety course that meets the National Boating Education Standards.

The most common vessel types involved in reported incidents were open motorboats, personal watercraft, and cabin motorboats.  Where vessel type was known, the vessel types with the highest percentage of deaths were open motorboats (44 percent), kayaks (17 percent), and personal watercraft (8 percent).

In 2023, there was a slightly higher percentage of deaths attributed to canoes and kayaks, as compared to other vessel types.  Beach encourages boaters to check the weather and water conditions prior to getting underway.

The data is based on incidents that resulted in at least one of the following criteria:  death, disappearance, injury that required medical treatment beyond first aid, damages to the vessel(s) or other property that equaled or exceeded $2,000, or a loss of vessel.

In addition to wearing a life jacket and taking a boating safety course, the Coast Guard recommends all boaters to attach the engine cut-off switch, get a free vessel safety check, and boat sober.

“We praise our state and non-profit partners in boating safety who have endeavored to reduce casualties through educational outreach and enforcement,” said Beach. 

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