Water Sports Foundation Media Fact Sheet: Boating Safety

Information curated from multiple boating safety stakeholders using most recently published 2019 U.S. Coast Guard Data

11,878,542 registered recreational vessels in the United States

In 2019, the U.S. Coast Guard reported:

  • 4,168 accidents that involved 613 deaths.
  • 2,559 injuries.
  • $55 million dollars of damage to property from recreational boating accidents.


  • Where cause of death was known, 86% of drowning victims in recreational boating accidents were not wearing a life jacket.
  • Drowning is the reported cause of death in 79% of all boating fatalities
  • 8 out of every 10 boaters who drowned were using vessels less than 21 feet in length.
  • Nine out of 10 drownings occur on inland waters within a few hundred feet from shore, and half of recreational boating fatalities happen on calm water.

Boating Safety Instruction

  • Where instruction was known, 70% of deaths occurred on boats where the operator did not receive boating safety instruction.
  • Where instruction was known, only 20% of deaths occurred on vessels where the operator had received nationally-approved boating safety instruction.

Boating Accidents

The top five primary contributing factors in accidents include:

  • Operator Inattention
  • Improper Lookout
  • Operator Inexperience
  • Excessive Speed
  • Alcohol

NOTE: There were 171 accidents in which at least one person was struck by a propeller. Collectively, these accidents resulted in 35 deaths and 155 injuries.

NOTE: Where data was known, the most common vessel types involved in reported accidents were open motorboats (45%), personal watercraft (19%), and cabin motorboats (16%).

Top 10 states for boating accidents:

  1. Florida (679 accidents; 55 deaths)
  2. California (324 accidents; 37 deaths)
  3. Texas (184 accidents; 38 deaths)
  4. New York (165 accidents; 17 deaths)
  5. Missouri (145 accidents; 18 deaths)
  6. South Carolina (141 accidents; 15 deaths)
  7. Maryland (130 accidents; 12 deaths)
  8. Michigan (128 accidents; 21 deaths)
  9. North Carolina (128 accidents; 15 deaths)
  10. Ohio (128 accidents; 12 deaths)

Boating Fatalities

Fatality rate:

  • 5.2 deaths per 100,000 registered recreational vessels, a 1.9% decrease from recorded 2018 fatality rate of 5.3 deaths per 100,000 registered recreational vessels.
  • Alcohol use is the leading known contributing factor in boating fatalities; where the primary cause was known, alcohol was listed as the leading factor in 23% of deaths
  • Alcohol was the primary contributing factor in 113 U.S. boating fatalities in 2019.
  • Alcohol was the primary contributing factor in more than 18 percent of U.S. boating deaths in 2019 from all causes, including those attributed to equipment failure and weather.
  • The Coast Guard estimates a boat operator with a blood alcohol concentration above .10 percent is more than 10 times as likely to die in a boating accident than a sober operator

Top states by recreational boating deaths include:

  1. Florida (62 deaths; 421 injuries)
  2. Texas (43 deaths; 122 injuries)
  3. California (39 deaths; 199 injuries)
  4. Alabama (28 deaths; 58 injuries)
  5. Washington (27 deaths; 55 injuries)
  6. Georgia (23 deaths; 57 injuries)
  7. Michigan (22 deaths; 74 injuries)
  8. Louisiana (20 deaths; 96 injuries)
  9. Virginia (20 deaths; 33 injuries)
  10. Illinois (18 deaths; 41 injuries)


The communications team at the Water Sports Foundation has designed the National Boating Safety Media Center to provide relevant and accurate content, imagery, experts and resources to assist journalists in story development. If further assistance is needed, please feel free to Contact Us for additional support.

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