A Look at Boating by the Numbers

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The Coast Guard released good news for boaters in their “Recreational Boating Statistics 2010” annual publication, and as you can guess, I analyze this publication cover to cover each year.  OK, so not your cup of tea, but I find the information and data inside supports my claims that boating is the safest outdoor activity other than watching the submarine races.

The boating statistics for 2010 show that there were only 4,604 accidents (counted) that involved 672 deaths and 3,153 injuries.  This is a dramatic decrease of 126 accidents, 64 deaths and 206 injuries from the previous year, and continues a downward spiral from previous years.  Now keep in mind that the Coast Guard has expanded the reporting requirements to include anyone swimming from a moored or anchored boat, and paddle craft such as paddle boards, canoes, kayaks, and the like.  I mention paddle craft because these are not included in the total number of registered vessels, and so skews the incidents-per-vessel statistics higher.

Even with the drop in boat sales, the National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA) reports in its annual “Recreational Boating Statistical Report” that of the 231.5 million adults living in the United States in 2010, 32.4 percent, or 75 million people, participated in recreational boating.  Wow. I have not seen the percentage that high since 1999, when 33.4 percent of adults were boating participants.  Boaters increased from 65.9 million people in 2009 to 75 million last year, yet the Coast Guard is reporting that annual deaths from boating are at an all time low.

As I have mentioned in numerous columns, the five leading factors in accidents are: operator inattention, improper lookout, operator inexperience, excessive speed, and the operator being under the influence.  However, it is important to note that the “operator being under the influence” number is another skewed statistic, as the operator in an incident does not need to be over the legal limit to be classified in this category, but only to have had a drink.

The report also states that only 9 percent of deaths occurred on boats where the operator had received boating instruction, and this is what I preach constantly to the boating community.  I find it interesting that, for example, golfers are always looking to perfect their swing, yet ole-time boaters rarely ask for instruction.  When I slide a megayacht into a slip with inches to spare on each side, the comments I hear from others watching is, “Oh, he is a professional Captain,” which is true, but professional Captains are always trying to improve their boating skills.  As Rags Laragione, president of the International Maritime Institute, says weekly on my radio show, “Education is the key, so let’s get educated.”

How does this affect the recreational boater in Newport Harbor?  The safety regulations are derived from the boating and safety reports, and presently, mandatory lifejacket wear is being proposed for anyone on a vessel 18 feet and under, and this includes boats in our harbor.  Boaters need to give their input to any proposed safety regulations.

Tip of week is from an email I received about Flag Day, and why I did not print my boaters’ flag etiquette in my column this year.  Well, I thought that I have mentioned about flag etiquette too much in the past years, but I will consider making this an annual tradition.  However, I do have a flag tip for boaters who are planning to cruise internationally this summer.

Well, once you cruise outside the U.S. waters, you may only display the U.S. Ensign (regular flag) internationally, not the Yacht Ensign (13 stars encircling the fouled anchor) or the USPS Ensign.  Nor can you display the Yacht Ensign on land at your house in lieu of the regular flag, but I really want to display the Yacht Ensign at my house.

However I digress, and it is courtesy and, in some nations, law when cruising a foreign nation’s waters to fly the flag of that nation along with your nation’s flag.  I have found that marine flag customs in other nations do differ, ranging from not flying the nation’s flag until after checking in with the authorities to having the flag hoisted once you cross over an international boundary line.

If you need flags then stop by Nikki’s Flag Shop on Old Newport Blvd, and be sure to tell Gil that you read it in my Newport IndyiTolumn.

And don’t forget: Tune in to the No. 1 boating radio talk show in the nation, Capt. Mike Whitehead’s Boathouse Radio Show, broadcasting coast-to-coast on the CRN Digital Talk Radio syndicated network every Saturday at noon, Pacific Time and replayed on Sunday at 10 am Pacific.  Join Chandler Bell and me as we talk about “all things boating.”  You can find the station listings, cable TV channels, live streaming on the Internet, and now available are apps to listen to the show for your iPhone, Blackberry, iTouch, Android, Palm, and Windows Mobile at www.BoathouseTV.com or www.BoathouseRadio.com.

Until next week, Safe Voyages!


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