1997 California Boating Safety Report

June 1998


Table of Contents


Executive Summary

I. Introduction

II. Boating Accident Program

III. Boating Law Enforcement Programs

IV. Boating Safety Education Programs

V. 1998 Program Enhancements, Initiatives, and New Laws

VI. Accident Data Charts

VII. Glossary of Boating Terms

 


List of Exhibits


 


List of Charts


All  Accidents

  1. Accidents by Month
  2. Accidents by Day of the Week
  3. Accidents by Time of Day
  4. Vessels Involved in All Accidents by Type
  5. Vessels Involved in All Accidents by Length
  6. Operators Involved in All Accidents by Age
  7. Operation at Time of Accident
  8. Type of Accident
  9. Cause of Accident
  10. Accident Locations
  11. Water Skiing Accidents
  12. Rented Vessels - Chart A
  13. Rented Vessels - Chart B

Personal Watercraft Accidents

  1. PWC - Operators Involved in Accidents by Age
  2. PWC - Type of Accident
  3. PWC - Cause of Accident

Boating Fatalities

  1. Boating Fatalities - Accidents by Month
  2. Boating Fatalities - Accidents by Day of the Week
  3. Boating Fatalities - Accidents by Time of Day
  4. Boating Fatalities - Vessels Involved in Accidents by Type
  5. Boating Fatalities - Vessels Involved in Accidents by Length
  6. Boating Fatalities - Operators Involved in Accidents by Age
  7. Boating Fatalities - Operation at Time of Accident
  8. Boating Fatalities - Type of Accident
  9. Boating Fatalities - Cause of Accident
  10. Boating Fatalities - Accident Locations
  11. Boating Fatalities - Age of Victim
  12. Boating Fatalities - Cause of Death

 

Executive Summary

The Division of Boating and Waterways administers many programs to increase boating safety. The California Boating Safety Report summarizes activities performed in three key safety program areas:

  1. Boating accident statistics
  2. Law enforcement
  3. Safety education

This report also highlights the Department's current program enhancements and future safety initiatives designed to reduce accidents and make California's waterways safer.

California's boating accident program provides useful accident information to boaters, law enforcement agencies, and educational institutions. This information is communicated to the general public through incorporation of accident statistics and relevant safety measures into the Department's safety education programs and the law enforcement training programs. Exhibit E-1 provides a summary of key accident statistics for 1997.

The Department provides supplemental funding to counties for law enforcement activities and promotes uniform enforcement of boating laws through its law enforcement programs. The financial aid program allocated over $7.5 million to 31 counties and 2 cities for enforcement personnel and operating costs. In turn, the counties provided crucial boating regulation enforcement and safety training. Exhibit E-2 provides a summary of law enforcement activities supported by the financial aid program.

The law enforcement training program included seven courses on various boating safety topics. During 1997, Department staff trained over 300 marine enforcement officers.

The Department's safety education programs provided over 1.5 million individuals with boating safety training and materials. On-going partnerships with educational institutions, aquatic centers, and non-profit organizations continue to provide crucial safety information to students and the general public. Additionally, the Department sponsored a statewide radio and billboard campaign to promote life jacket usage and highlight the dangers of mixing alcohol and boating.
Exhibit E-3 provides a summary of the Department's safety education outreach programs.

Many new programs developed in 1998 focus on improving public outreach and expanding law enforcement training. Enhancements to existing programs reflect changing accident statistics and key safety concerns. Exhibit E-4 presents a summary of the 1998 program enhancements and initiatives.

 

Exhibit E-1
1997 Boating Accident Summary Statistics

Overall Boating Accident Statistics

  • 45% of reported accidents resulted from collisions with other vessels.
  • Operator inattention (35%), operator inexperience (34%), and excessive speed (33%) were the most common causes of accidents. Another 16% were caused by hazardous weather/water.
  • Accidents occurred mostly during the summer months (May through August) on weekends, during the afternoon hours (2:00-6:00pm).
  • 54% of accidents and 60% of injuries occurred on lakes.
  • Open motorboats were involved in 48% of all accidents, followed by PWC at 42%.
  • 45% of vessels involved in accidents were less than 16 feet long. Another 32% were between 16-25 feet long.
  • Operators in the 31-40 age group were involved in accidents more often than any other age group, followed by the 21-30 age group.
  • 43% of vessels involved in accidents were operated by someone other than the registered owner. About 33% were borrowed and 10% were rented.

     

PWC Accident Statistics

  • PWC accounted for 17% of registered vessels, but were involved in 42% of all accidents, 52% of all injuries, 19% of all fatalities, and 22% of all property damage.
  • 69% of PWC accidents resulted from collisions with other vessels.
  • Among collisions between two vessels, the other vessel was most often another PWC (64%). In half of these collisions, the operators knew each other and were riding together.
  • Excessive speed (54%), operator inexperience (53%), and operator inattention (50%) were the most common causes of PWC-related accidents.
  • Radical maneuvers (spraying other vessels, wake jumping, donuts, or playing "chicken") and crossing situations were factors in 48% of PWCrelated collisions (24% each). Operators following too closely behind another vessel were factors in another 17% of PWC collisions.
  • PWC operators in the 11-20 age group were involved and at-fault in more accidents than any other age group, followed closely by the 21-30 age group. This is very different from the last three years when PWC operators in the 21-30 age group were involved in more accidents than any other age group.
  • Nearly 71% of PWC involved in accidents were operated by someone other than the registered owner. Over half (55%) were borrowed and another 16% were rented.

Youth Accident Statistics

  • During the 1997 boating season, youth operators were involved in 13% of accidents, 17% of injuries, and 5% of fatalities.
  • 80 operators involved in accidents (57%) were under the age of 16. Nineteen of those operators were under the age of 12.
  • Of the 80 operators under 16 years of age, 75% did not have an adult on board. Of the 19 under the age of 12, 53% did not have an adult on board.
  • Collisions with other vessels accounted for 73% of accidents involving youth operators.
  • Most of the collisions involved youth operators colliding with adult operators (81%).
  • In collisions between youth and adult operators, youth operators were more likely to be exclusively at fault.
  • Operator inexperience was a factor in 68% of accidents involving youth operators and was the most common cause of accidents involving them. Operator inexperience was a factor in only 34% of accidents involving operators of all ages.
  • 93% of youth operators involved in accidents were operating personal watercraft (PWC).

Fatal Accident Statistics

  • 23% of fatalities occurred in July. Over half (51%) occurred on weekends.
  • Over half (57%) of vessels involved in fatal accidents were open motorboats, followed by PWC at 22%.
  • Nearly all vessels involved in fatal accidents were less than 26 feet in length (94%).
  • Hazardous weather/water (30%), operator inattention (26%), and excessive speed (23%) were the most common causes of fatalities.
  • More than half (56%) of the victims drowned. Of that group, 67% were not wearing a life jacket.
  • Capsizing was the most common type of fatal accident (28%), followed by falls overboard and collisions with vessels (19% each).
  • The operators in the 31-40 age group were involved in fatal accidents most often, followed by the 21-30 age group.
  • Nearly half (44%) of fatalities occurred on lakes. Another 23% occurred on oceans/bays.
  • 39% of boating fatalities were found to be alcohol-related, where testing could be conducted.

 

Exhibit E-2
Services Supported by the Financial Aid Program

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Exhibit E-3
1997 Boating Safety Education Programs

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Exhibit E-4
1998 Boating Safety Program Enhancements

Life Jacket Use

Alcohol

Personal Watercraft

School Curriculum for Youths

 


I. Introduction


California's rivers, lakes, bays, and coastal areas offer boating enthusiasts a wide variety of recreational opportunities, including:

Boating popularity grew steadily over the last decade, as reflected by the increase in registered vessels. As of December 31, 1997, California had 894,347 registered vessels, the second highest in the nation. Personal watercraft (PWC) registration totals have grown faster than any other vessel registration type over the last several years.

Personal Watercraft (PWC) Registrations

The Division of Boating and Waterways' mission is to provide safe and convenient public access to California waterways and to provide leadership in promoting the public's right to safe and enjoyable boating. To accomplish this, the Department administers statewide boating accident, law enforcement, and safety education programs. The California Boating Safety Report highlights important statistics and activities for each program and describes current and future activities to enhance boating safety.

 

A. Boating Accident Program

The Department's boating accident program disseminates accident information to boaters, law enforcement agencies, educational organizations, and the media. The program is mandated by Part 173 of Title 33 of the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations. Annual accident information collected by the Department is forwarded to the U.S. Coast Guard in Washington D.C., and is made a part of the Coast Guard's annual publication, Boating Statistics.

California accident statistics are compiled under state law, Section 656 of the Harbors and Navigation Code, which requires a boater who is involved in an accident to file a written report with the Department when:

Department staff review reported accidents, determine the cause(s), and identify preventative measures and specific safety-related problems. Safety education program staff incorporate these safety problems and related solutions in updated course materials, promotional activities, and brochures. Law enforcement staff also communicate these safety problems during training sessions.

 

B. Law Enforcement Programs

The primary objective of the Department's law enforcement program is to protect the public's right to safe and enjoyable boating. To this end, the unit offers training to law enforcement officers to ensure uniform enforcement of boating laws, and provides financial support to counties for law enforcement programs and activities. During the 1996/97 fiscal year, law enforcement officers from participating counties provided nearly 40,000 operators with boating safety education through regulation enforcement activities. Their verbal warnings and written citations were instrumental in helping to prevent accidents and improve boating safety.

 

C. Safety Education Programs

The Department provides accessible boating safety education through partnerships with educational institutions and non-profit organizations. These entities, in turn, provide crucial aquatic and boating safety education to students and the general public. Both teachers and students praise the boating safety course materials developed by the Department for their exceptional content and ease of use. During the 1996/97 fiscal year, the unit received several awards from the State Information Officer's Council for educational materials developed by Department staff.

Additionally, the Department's public information unit provides safety information to more than a million boaters through publication distribution, public service announcements, and billboard campaigns. The Department has more than 50 different boating safety publications covering many topics, such as boating and alcohol use and proper PWC handling.

 


II. Boating Accident Program


Vessel fires often result from operators neglecting to properly ventilate their vessels before starting the engine.

This section summarizes 1997 boating accident statistics. California boaters, law enforcement agencies, and educational institutions use these statistics to help improve boating safety.

A. Limitations of the Analysis

Reportable Accidents

The numbers in this report do not reflect every reportable boating accident in California in 1997, although the Department believes that all accidents involving fatalities were reported. Many non-fatal accidents are never reported to the Department or law enforcement agencies due to either noncompliance or ignorance of the reporting law. The U.S. Coast Guard estimates that only 10% of accidents are reported to state programs nationwide, while the Red Cross estimates that only 2.5% are reported.

An increase in the number of reported accidents from year to year may not necessarily reflect an increase in the actual number of accidents, but rather may result from improved reporting. To improve the accuracy of accident statistics, the Department will increase its efforts to obtain all accident reports by working closely with law enforcement agencies.

Accident Statistics

A total of 925 accidents were reported to the Department in 1997. Some statistics in this report are measured as a percentage of these total accidents. Often, there is more than one cause of an accident, more than one operator involved in an accident, or more than one vessel involved. For example, 10 accidents may each involve two operators, resulting in 20 persons involved in accidents. A total of 1,253 operators were involved in boating accidents in 1997. Many statistics presented in this report are measured as a percentage of the number of operators involved or the number of causes—rather than the 925 accidents—in order to provide more accurate comparisons.

Alcohol Use

Analysis of alcohol-related accidents can be difficult for the following reasons:

Delayed Accident Reporting—Often there is significant delay between the time of the accident and the reporting of the accident. Delays can happen for a variety of reasons including emergency care needs and the desire to avoid legal consequences. Unfortunately, these delays can result in the loss of accurate evidence due to alcohol burn-off (and the reluctance on the part of operators/passengers to report themselves as being under the influence of alcohol).

Delayed Body Recovery—Some bodies of boating accident victims are not recovered immediately. A delay of greater than two days in recovering a body can result in significantly altered blood alcohol levels due to the process of decomposition, by which a body produces alcohol.

Several of the 1997 boating fatalities could not be tested for alcohol for the above reasons.

B. 1997 Accident Summary

Findings

The 925 accidents reported to the Department during 1997 involved 526 injuries, 43 fatalities, and $3.3 million in property damage. Both the total number of reported accidents and the total property damage were higher than 1996 levels, (850 and $2.2 million, respectively). Reported injuries were slightly lower than last year (537) and the number of fatalities dropped from 52 in 1996 to 43 in 1997. Exhibit II-1 presents boating accident statistics in California from 1980 through 1997. Exhibit II-2 presents 1997 boating accident statistics by county.

Type and Cause of Accidents

Exhibit II-3 presents types and causes of accidents by vessel type. Overall, most accidents involved collisions with other vessels (45%). The most common type of accident involving open motorboats were collisions with other vessels (34%), followed by skier mishaps (18%). Most accidents involving PWC were collisions with other vessels (69%), followed by falls overboard (11%).

The most frequently stated causes of accidents overall were operator inattention (35%), operator inexperience (34%), and excessive speed (33%). Hazardous weather/water was a cause in 16% of accidents. The leading cause of accidents involving open motorboats was operator inattention, followed by operator inexperience. The leading causes of accidents involving PWC were excessive speed and operator inexperience. (A boating accident can have more than one attributable cause.) Overall, the causes were consistent with previous years.

Time and Location

As expected, accidents occurred mostly during the summer months (May through August) on weekends, during the afternoon hours (2:00-6:00pm). Exhibit II-4 presents the accidents, injuries, and fatalities by location. Overall, most accidents and injuries occurred on lakes—54% and 60% respectively—and more occurred on northern lakes.

Vessel Type and Length

Open motorboats were involved in 48% of all accidents and PWC were involved in 42% of all accidents. In 1997, open motorboats accounted for more than 50% of all vessels registered in California, and PWC accounted for approximately 17%.

 

Exhibit II-1
1980-1997 Boating Accidents in California*

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* An accident is considered reportable if: a person dies, disappears, or is injured requiring medical attention beyond first aid; damage to a vessel or other property damage exceeds $500; or there is a complete loss of a vessel. Not all accidents are reported to the Department, due to either nonobservance or ignorance of the reporting law.

Exhibit II-2
1997 Boating Accidents by County*

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* An accident is considered reportable if: a person dies, disappears, or is injured requiring medical attention beyond first aid; damage to a vessel or other property damage exceeds $500; or there is a complete loss of a vessel. Not all accidents are reported to the Department, due to either nonobservance or ignorance of the reporting law.

Exhibit II-3
Types and Causes of Accident by Vessel Type

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The sum of the percentages does not equal 100 percent because some accidents involved multiple types and causes.

Exhibit II-4
1997 Boating Accidents by Location*

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* An accident is considered reportable if: a person dies, disappears, or is injured requiring medical attention beyond first aid; damage to a vessel or other property damage exceeds $500; or there is a complete loss of a vessel. Not all accidents are reported to the Department, due to either nonobservance or ignorance of the reporting law.

This indicates that PWC were involved in a disproportionately high number of accidents. Nearly all vessels (87%) involved in accidents were less than 26 feet long.

Operator Age

Overall, operators in the 31-40 age group (24%) were involved in accidents more often than those in any other age group, followed by operators in the 21-30 age group (21%). The 31-40 age group was involved most often in open motorboat accidents, followed by the 41-50 age group. The 11-20 age group was involved most often in PWC accidents, followed by the 21-30 age group.

Operator Owner Status

Nearly 43% of all vessels involved in accidents were operated by the registered owner. About one-third were borrowed and just 10% were rented.

C. Accidents Involving Personal Watercraft (PWC)

Background

A personal watercraft (PWC) is a small vessel that uses an internal combustion engine powering a jet pump or propeller. It is designed to carry from one to three persons, and to be operated by a person sitting, standing, or kneeling on the vessel rather than the conventional manner of sitting or standing inside the vessel.

The use of PWC is subject to all state, local, and federal regulations governing the operation of all powerboats of similar size.

As of December 31, 1997, there were approximately 154,264 PWC registered in California, comprising 17% of registered vessels.

Findings

A total of 391 PWC-related accidents were reported in 1997, resulting in 276 injuries, 8 fatalities, and $709,450 in property damage. Both the total number of reported accidents and the total property damage were higher than 1996 levels (385 and $508,300, respectively). The number of reported injuries was lower than last year (298) and the number of fatalities remained the same. Exhibit II-5 presents a five-year summary for PWC accidents, injuries, fatalities, and property damage. Exhibit II-6 presents the 1997 reportable PWC-related accidents by county.

As mentioned earlier, PWC were involved in a disproportionately high number of accidents. Exhibit II-7 presents registration and accident statistics for open motor boats, PWC, and other vessels during 1997. PWC accounted for 17% of registered vessels, but were involved in 42% of accidents, 52% of all injuries, 19% of all fatalities, and 22% of all property damage.

Type and Cause of Accidents

Most reported PWC accidents involved collisions with other vessels (69%). Eleven percent of accidents involved falls overboard, and 7% involved grounding/collision with a fixed object. Among collisions between two vessels, the other vessel was most often another PWC (64%). The most common causes of all PWC accidents were excessive speed (52%), operator inexperience (51%), and operator inattention (47%). All of these causes are operator-controllable factors. (Some accidents have more than one attributable cause.)

Upon further evaluation of PWC collisions with another vessel, specific activities such as radical maneuvers (spraying other vessels, wake

Exhibit II-5
1993-1997 PWC Accidents, Injuries,
Fatalities, and Property Damage*

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jumping, donuts, or playing "chicken") and crossing situations were factors in 48% of the PWC related collisions (24% each). Following too closely behind another vessel was a factor in another 17% of PWC collisions.

Operator Age and Fault Assessment

PWC operators in the 11-20 age group were involved and at-fault in more accidents than any other age group, followed closely by the 21-30 age group. This is very different from the last three years, when the 21-30 age group was involved in more accidents than any other age group.

Operator Owner Status

Nearly 71% of PWC involved in accidents were operated by someone other than the registered owner. Over half (55%) were borrowed and 16% were rented.

Representative Accidents

Additional Safety Concerns

D. Accidents Involving Youths

Background

In this section, "youths" refers to persons under 18 years of age.

From 1987 through 1997, California law required a person to be at least 12 years of age to operate a motorboat of more than 10 HP. If an operator was under 12, a person 18 years of age or older had to be on board the vessel.

Exhibit II-6
1997 PWC-Related Accidents by County*

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Exhibit II-7
1997 Registration and Accident Statistics for
Open Motorboats, PWC, and Other Vessels

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* These figures are estimates. The Department of Motor Vehicles does not have a "dedicated" open motorboat registration category.

** The sum of the percentages does not equal 100 percent because some accidents, injuries, and fatalities involve multiple types of vessels.

 

Findings

Exhibit II-8 presents a five-year summary for youth operator accident statistics. The number of accidents involving youths has remained consistent for the last three years. During the 1997 boating season, youth operators were involved in 13% of all accidents, 17% of injuries, and 5% of fatalities. Two youth operators died while operating a vessel in 1997. Of the 140 youth operators involved in accidents, 80 were under the age of 16, and 19 were under the age of 12. Of the 80 operators under 16 years of age, 75% did not have an adult on board. Of the 19 under the age of 12, 53% did not have an adult on board.

Type and Cause of Accidents

Collisions (73%) were the primary type of accident involving youth operators.

Operator inexperience was a factor in 68% of accidents involving youth operators and was the most common cause of accidents involving them. Operator inexperience was a factor in only 34% of accidents involving operators of all ages. Operator

inattention was the second most common cause, followed by excessive speed.

Vessel Type

Nearly all (93%) of youth operators involved in accidents were operating a PWC.

Fault Assessment

Youth operators were involved in 88 collisions with other vessels. Most of these collisions involved youth operators colliding with adult operators (81%). Youth operators were exclusively at fault in 48% of these collisions, compared to 28% for adult operators.

Representative Accidents

 

Exhibit II-8
1993-1997 Youth Operator Accidents

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Additional Safety Concern

Very young children riding on PWC can present serious safety problems. While riding in front of an operator, a child has easy access to the vessel controls and can easily manipulate them. Such situations have resulted in accidents. Seating a young child behind a PWC operator is unsafe as well, because he or she can easily fall overboard.

 

E. Fatal Boating Accidents

Findings

In 1997, 43 fatalities occurred on California waterways. This represents 4.8 fatalities per 100,000 registered vessels. The number of fatalities has dropped from 52 in 1996 (5.9 per 100,000 registered vessels) and is the second lowest number of boating-related fatalities since 1980 (40 fatalities occurred in 1994).

Overall, California has the second highest number of fatalities in the nation, behind Florida, which reported 67 fatal boating accidents during 1997 (approximately 9 per 100,000 registered vessels). Wisconsin reported the third highest number of fatalities, with 29 (5.3 per 100,000 registered vessels). Fatalities nationwide have decreased in recent years. This appears to be due to a number of contributing factors, including the increased use of life jackets.2

Type and Cause of Accidents

Exhibit II-9 presents boating fatalities by type of accident and life jacket usage. Most fatalities involved vessels capsizing (28%), followed by falls overboard and collisions with other vessels (19% each). Hazardous weather/water (30%), operator inattention (26%), and excessive speed (23%) were the primary causes of fatalities. Over half (56%) of the victims drowned. Of that group, 67% were not wearing a life jacket.

Time and Location

As expected, fatalities occurred mostly during the summer months (May through August). Over half (51%) occurred on weekends. Nearly half (44%) of fatal accidents occurred on lakes. Another 23% occurred on oceans/bays.

 

Vessel Type and Length

Over half (57%) of vessels involved in fatal accidents were open motorboats, followed by PWC at 22%. Even though PWC were involved in 42% of all accidents, they were not involved in nearly as many fatalities. PWC operators are more likely to wear life jackets, which may explain the reduced number of fatalities. Nearly all vessels involved in fatal accidents were less than 26 feet in length (94%).

Representative Accidents

Grounding accidents often result from operating at unsafe speeds close to shore.

 

Exhibit II-9
1997 Fatal Boating Accidents by Type and Life Jacket Usage

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F. Alcohol Use And
Fatal Boating Accidents

Background

In 1987, state law made it illegal to have a blood alcohol level of 0.10% or above while operating a vessel. In 1991, this level was decreased to 0.08%. Furthermore, a "boating under the influence" conviction now appears on Department of Motor Vehicles records and can be used to suspend or revoke a vehicle driver's license.

Only victims of fatal boating accidents were tested for alcohol levels. A person is assumed "under the influence" if their blood alcohol level is 0.035% or higher. The National Transportation Safety Board has determined that when the concentration of alcohol in a person's bloodstream reaches this level, noticeable changes in competence occur.

As discussed earlier, testing was not conducted on all victims due to delayed accident reporting or delayed body recovery, which can alter blood alcohol levels.

Findings

Among the 43 fatalities, 31 were examined to determine their alcohol level. Of these 31 victims, 12 (39%) had blood alcohol levels equal to or greater than 0.035%. All 12 were operators or passengers in motorized vessels (16 motorized vessels were involved including 9 open motorboats, 4 PWC, 2 cabin motorboats, and 1 pontoon).

Type and Cause of Accidents

Four of the 12 alcohol-related fatalities involved collisions between two vessels. Another 4 victims fell overboard and drowned. One victim's vessel capsized and another victim's vessel grounded. The other 2 victims drowned for unknown reasons. Overall, half the victims died from blunt trauma injuries and half drowned. Nearly all (83%) of the victims who drowned were not wearing a life jacket.

Time and Location

Among the 12 alcohol-related fatalities, 6 occurred on inland lakes, 2 in the Sacramento/San Joaquin Delta, 2 on the Colorado River, and 2 in ocean/bay waters. Overall, 8 fatalities occurred in Northern California and 4 in Southern California.

Alcohol-Related Fatalities Involving
Motorized Vessels

In January 1986, the Department submitted the Boating Safety Report to the California Legislature. This report analyzed alcohol-related boating accidents between November 1, 1983 and October 31, 1985, and concluded that 59% of all fatalities involving motorized vessels were alcohol-related (where alcohol-related testing could be conducted).

The Department conducted a second alcohol-related boating accident study between January 1, 1993, and December 31, 1994. This study concluded that 23% of all fatalities involving motorized vessels were alcohol-related, a significant reduction from the 1986 study.

The table below shows the percentage of alcohol-related fatalities involving motorized vessels (where alcohol-related testing could be conducted) from 1993 to 1997.

Percentage of Alcohol-Related Fatalities by Year Involving Motorized Vessels

  • 1993 - 33%
  • 1994 - 11%
  • 1995 - 34%
  • 1996 - 39%
  • 1997 - 48%

In 1997, 25 of the 31 victims tested for alcohol-relatedness were killed in accidents involving motorized vessels. Of that group, 48% were alcohol-related. This percentage was significantly higher than any rate during the previous four years.

Representative Accidents

 

III. Boating Law Enforcement Programs

 

In support of the Department's mission to provide leadership in promoting the public's right to safe and enjoyable boating on California waterways, the Enforcement Unit established two primary objectives:

The Enforcement Unit meets these objectives through programs that provide officer training and financial aid to local boating law enforcement agencies.

A. Financial Aid Program

The Department believes that boating safety is directly proportional to the level of enforcement activity on California's waters. Therefore, the Department's financial aid program provides supplemental funding to local governments—usually for county sheriff boating patrol units. The funding supports enforcement of State and local boating regulations, assistance to boaters in distress, search and rescue operations, inspection of vessels, and supervision of boating events.

During fiscal year 1996/97, the Department allocated $7.6 million in funding to 31 counties and 2 cities for boating law enforcement opera tions, maintenance, equipment, and personnel costs. Exhibit III-1 presents a summary of services supported during this period by the financial aid program.

Boating law enforcement officers provide important safety education to the boating public. A positive working relationship with the law enforcement community in turn provides the Department with an excellent resource to help communicate with the recreational boater.

In fiscal year 1996/97, law enforcement officers provided boating safety education to nearly 40,000 vessel operators, primarily by means of verbal warnings, which act as teaching tools to give the boater more knowledge and help prevent accidents.

Exhibit III-1
Services Supported by the Financial Aid Program

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B. Law Enforcement Training Program

Because California does not have centralized boating law enforcement, there are more than 100 public agencies throughout the state that enforce California's boating laws. Consequently, the interpretation of "standard" boating laws could vary from agency to agency, making it confusing for California's boaters. However, the Department provides an extensive law enforcement training program to ensure that boaters can expect uniform law enforcement on water bodies throughout the state.

During 1997, The Department conducted 17 one-week classes (680 hours) throughout the State and trained over 300 marine patrol officers. These courses are taught by law enforcement specialists for law enforcement personnel. The expertise and credibility our instructors bring to the training program is unparalleled.

The Department offers training classes in the following areas:

 

IV. Boating Safety Education Programs

The Safety Education Unit has two primary objectives to support the Department's mission:

The Department relies on partnerships with several organizations (educational institutions, aquatic centers, and the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary) to provide boating safety education. Educational institutions receive course materials on boating and aquatic safety information for students. College-level aquatic centers that offer on-the-water safety education are eligible for Department grants and scholarships. Last year, these partnerships provided nearly 325,000 individuals with boating safety training.

A. Educational Outreach to
School-Age Children

AquaSMART

The Department developed the AquaSMART curriculum to educate school-age children about water safety. The course is a three-part series for K - 2, 3 - 5, and 6 - 8 grades. Course materials cover a variety of topics surrounding boating and aquatic safety. The Department provided the AquaSMART Elementary Education Program to 166,000 students in 1997.

The Department recently developed a new AquaSMART series for high school students that incorporates key safety concerns identified by accident statistics, including proper PWC operation. This course will be available to schools in the fall of 1998. In the meantime, the Department provides the U.S. Coast Guard's Boating Safely High School education program to high school students. In 1997, 25,000 students were educated through this program.

Poster Contest

The Department's annual poster contest, Safe and Wise Water Ways, is now in its fifth year. Students in the K - 6 grade levels are invited to submit artwork depicting safe boating and aquatic themes. One winner from each grade level is chosen to be featured in the Department's annual poster calendar. This contest turns students into teachers as they pass on the water safety lessons they have learned through their artwork. In making the 1997 calendar, 6,000 entries were judged. The contest will be extended to the 7th and 8th grade levels this year during its sixth annual run.

Interactive Tools

The Department loans two interactive robots, Sea More and Sea Lily, to organizations and law enforcement agencies. The robots communicate vital boating safety information to children.

B. Educational Outreach to
the General Public

Aquatic Center Grant Program

The Department provides grant monies to aquatic centers throughout the state for program enhancements. Grants can be used either for scholarships or for the purchase of equipment to be used in boating and education classes. This program allows the Department to increase the number of boaters who receive hands-on boating safety training.

These aquatic centers are operated by universities, cities, counties, and nonprofit organizations, and provide on-the-water boating safety education in kayaking, canoeing, water skiing, power boating, sailing, windsurfing, and personal watercraft operation. These programs target university students, the general public, persons with disabilities, and disadvantaged youths. The individuals who run these programs share not only safety skills with the students, but also their enthusiasm for boating.

During the 1996/97 fiscal year, the Department allocated $560,000 in grants to 31 aquatic centers, which then provided 124,000 individuals with hands-on aquatic and boating education.

General Education

Billboard Campaigns

The education unit also advertises safety messages through billboard campaigns. Last year, the Department located 10 mobile billboards on key waterways during holiday weekends to promote boating safety.

Home Study Course

The Department provides a 64-page booklet to the public called the California Boating Safety Course. This course is designed for home study, allowing readers to progress at their own pace. This comprehensive course covers state and federal boating law, rules of the road, boat handling, required equipment, navigational aids, and other topics. The course contains an optional exam that, once completed, can be forwarded to the Department for grading. Those who successfully complete the course are awarded with certificates that are recognized by many insurance companies for discounts on boating insurance. In 1997, 25,000 Home Study Education Course materials were distributed to the general public.

National Safe Boating Week

One week each year is designated as National Safe Boating Week. The Department organizes a number of boating safety events during this week designed not only to promote safe boating, but also to promote the fun of boating. Activities featured during this week include:

 

C. Public Information

Education Through Pamphlets

In 1997, the Department distributed 1.2 million copies of boating safety literature to the public. The Department's public information unit develops and distributes nearly 50 different boating safety publications. The publications cover a variety of topics emphasizing boating safety on California waterways. Additionally, some materials focus on key safety issues for individual waterways. The unit mails these publications directly to individuals and provides various organizations with materials for distribution. Department representatives also attend numerous safety fairs and boat shows, distributing literature and answering questions. Currently, the Department of Motor Vehicles mails safety brochures with each new vessel registration and each renewal.

Public Service Announcements

Each year, the Department produces and distributes one or more public service announcements to television stations across the state. Last year, in partnership with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Department produced and distributed a 30-second PSA on personal watercraft safety to more than 100 television stations.

 

V. 1998 Program Enhancements, Initiatives, and New Laws

 

This section describes the Department's new and enhanced programs and activities for 1998. The Department updates many of its programs to reflect changing boating trends and safety concerns. Many new programs developed in 1998 focus on improving public outreach and expanding law enforcement training. Additionally, many new laws became effective as of January 1, 1998.

A. Life Jacket Use

B. Personal Watercraft Safety

C. Youth Operator Safety

D. Alcohol Use

E. Other Safety Program Enhancements and Initiatives

F. New Laws

 

VI. Accident Data Charts

The charts in this section are designed to provide general statewide information on boating accidents. There are three groups of charts which give information for:

  • All Accidents
  • PWC Accidents
  • Fatal Accidents

 

Charts for All Accidents

Some charts are organized by the total number of accidents, which was 925. Other charts are organized by the total number of vessels, which was 1,413. The totals listed on the charts Type of Accident and Cause of Accident exceed the total number of accidents because many accidents fell into more than one category. The chart Operators Involved in All Accidents by Age adds to 1,413 for the total number of vessels. There is a subtotal of 1,253, which indicates the total number of operators, as 160 vessels involved in accidents did not have operators.

Charts for PWC Accidents

The totals listed on the charts Type of Accident and Cause of Accident exceed the total number of PWC accidents, which was 391, because many accidents fell into more than one category.

Charts for Fatal Accidents

Totals on most of the charts containing information for fatal accidents add up to the total number of fatalities, which was 43. Other charts are organized by the total number of vessels involved in fatal accidents, which was 51. The total listed on the chart Cause of Accident exceeds the total number of fatalities because many accidents involving fatalities fell into more than one category.

 

Chart 1
Accidents by Month

TOTAL ACCIDENTS = 925

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Most boating accidents occurred from May through September, with the greatest number of accidents occurring in July.

Chart 2
Accidents by Day of the Week

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62 percent of all accidents occurred on weekends (Saturday and Sunday).

Chart 3
Accidents by Time of Day

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Time on this chart is represented by a 24-hour clock. Time is counted normally through the noon hour. After noon, add 1:00 for each additional hour up to 24:00 (midnight). Thus, 2:00 p.m. is shown as 14:00 (12:00 + 2:00), etc.

 

Chart 4
Vessels Involved in All Accidents by Type

TOTAL VESSELS = 1,413

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Personal watercraft (PWC) and open motorboats comprised 78% of all vessels involved in accidents.

Chart 5
Vessels Involved in All Accidents by Length

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Vessels less than 16 feet were involved in more accidents than any other category, followed by vessels 16-25 feet. These two categories accounted for 77% of all vessels involved in accidents.

Chart 6
Operators Involved in All Accidents by Age

TOTAL OPERATORS = 1,253

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* Percentages are derived from this number.

"No Operator" refers to accidents involving vessels where there was no operator present at the time of the accident. Most of these vessels were in vessel slips, tied to docks, or moored, and were struck by other vessels. Some accident reports submitted to the Department do not include operator age information, as indicated by the "Age Unknown" category.

Chart 7
Operation at Time of Accident

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Cruising was the most common type of vessel operation preceding accidents, followed by changing direction.

Chart 8
Type of Accident

TOTAL TYPES = 1,031

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Some accidents are represented by more than one accident type, which accounts for the accident types exceeding the number of accidents. An example of such an accident is when an operator falls overboard and is then struck by another vessel. Such an accident would be represented in both the "Falls Overboard" category and the "Struck by Boat/Propeller" category, since both of these occurrences were significant components of the accident.

Chart 9
Cause of Accident

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Operator inattention was the most common cause of accidents (35%), followed by operator inexperience (34%) and excessive speed (33%).

Chart 10
Accident Locations

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More boating accidents occurred on lakes than on any other type of body of water.

Chart 11
Water Skiing Accidents

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The "Combination" categories refer to accidents in which a boat towing a water skier was involved in an accident with a boat towing an inner tube or board. These categories are used to prevent double-counting.

Chart 12
Rented Vessels - Chart A

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Only 10% of vessels involved in boating accidents were rented.

Chart 13
Rented Vessels - Chart B

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The majority of rented vessels involved in boating accidents were personal watercraft (PWC).

Chart 14
PWC - Operators Involved in Accidents by Age

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"No Operator" refers to accidents involving vessels where there was no operator present at the time of the accident. Most of these vessels were in vessel slips, tied to docks, or moored, and were struck by other vessels. Because PWC do not tend to be housed in slips, due to their small size, the number of vessels in this category is much smaller than the "No Operator" category for overall boating accidents. Some accident reports submitted to the Department do not include operator age information, as indicated by the "Age Unknown" category.

Operators from the 11-20 age group were involved in more PWC-related accidents than any other age group, followed by the 21-30 age group.

Chart 15
PWC - Type of Accident

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The majority of PWC-related accidents involved PWC colliding with other vessels—most often, other PWC (64% of all PWC-related accidents).

Chart 16
PWC - Cause of Accident

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Many PWC-related accidents had more than one cause, which is reflected in this chart. The "Other" category includes causes that do not fit into any of the categories listed above.

Excessive speed (52%), operator inexperience (51%), and operator inattention (47%) were the most common causes of accidents involving PWC.

 

Chart 17
Boating Fatalities - Accidents by Month

TOTAL FATALITIES = 43

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The largest number of fatalities occurred during the month of July

 

Chart 18
Boating Fatalities - Accidents by Day of the Week

TOTAL FATALITIES = 43

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The largest number of fatal boating accidents occurred on Saturday (30%), followed by Sunday (21%).

Chart 19
Boating Fatalities - Accidents by Time of Day

TOTAL FATALITIES = 43

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Time on this chart is represented by a 24-hour clock. Time is counted normally through the noon hour. After noon, add 1:00 for each additional hour up to 24:00 (midnight). Thus, 2:00 p.m. is shown as 14:00 (12:00 + 2:00), etc.

Most fatalities occurred between 10:00 a.m. (10:00) and 6:00 p.m. (18:00), when the waterways are most congested, resulting in an increased chance of collision.

 

Chart 20
Boating Fatalities - Vessels Involved in Accidents by Type

TOTAL VESSELS = 51

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The majority of vessels involved in fatal boating accidents were open motorboats (57%).

Chart 21
Boating Fatalities - Vessels Involved in Accidents by Length

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The overwhelming majority of vessels (94%) involved in fatal boating accidents were less than 26 feet in length. The most common type of vessel involved in these accidents was less than 16 feet in length.

 

Chart 22
Boating Fatalities - Operators Involved in Accidents by Age

TOTAL OPERATORS = 47

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Operators in the 31-40 age group were involved most often in fatal boating accidents.

Chart 23
Boating Fatalities - Operation at Time of Accident

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The most common vessel operation preceding a fatal boating accident was cruising, followed by drifting.

Chart 24
Boating Fatalities - Type of Accident

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The most common type of fatal boating accident involved capsizing, followed by falling overboard and colliding with another vessel.

Chart 25
Boating Fatalities - Cause of Accident

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Hazardous weather or water conditions accounted for 30% of all fatalities, followed by operator inattention (26%) and excessive speed (23%).

Chart 26
Boating Fatalities - Accident Locations

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The largest number of boating fatalities (19) occurred on lakes. Fatalities on oceans/bays and the Delta waterways combined for another 19 fatalities.

Chart 27
Boating Fatalities - Age of Victim

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The 21-30 and 31-40 age groups contained the largest number of boating fatalities.

Chart 28
Boating Fatalities - Cause of Death

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Drowning was the leading cause of death in fatal boating accidents. This chart shows the effectiveness of PFD usage. Of the victims who drowned, 67% were not wearing life jackets or other flotation devices.

 

VII. Glossary of Boating Terms

At Anchor - Held in place in the water by an anchor; includes "moored" to a buoy or anchored vessel, and "dragging anchor."

Cabin Motorboat - Motorboat with a cabin that can be completely closed by means of doors or hatches.

Capsizing - Overturning of a vessel. The bottom must become uppermost, except in the case of a sailboat, which lies on its side.

Collision with Fixed Object - The striking by a vessel of any fixed object, above or below the surface of the water.

Collision with Floating Object - Collision with any waterborne object above or below the surface of the water

Cruising - Proceeding normally, unrestricted, with an absence of drastic rudder or engine changes.

Drifting - Under way, but proceeding without use of engines, oars, or sails; carried along only by the tide, current, or wind.

Excessive Speed - Operating at a speed that is not reasonable or prudent considering the circumstances.

Fire/Explosion (Fuel) - Accidental combustion of vessel fuel or liquids, including their vapors.

Fire/Explosion (Other) - Accidental burning or explosion of any materials on board, except vessel fuels or their vapors.

Flooding/Swamping - Filling with water, but retaining sufficient buoyancy to remain on the surface.

Grounding - The running aground of a vessel; striking or pounding on the rocks, reefs, or shoals.

Improper Lookout - No proper watch; the failure of an operator to perceive danger because no one was serving as a lookout, or the person so serving failed to do so. (For purposes of this report, this term refers only to accidents where the ski observers were not present or failed to do their job, or sailboat accidents where a lookout was not posted or failed to perceive danger. All other accidents involving inattentive operators fall under "Operator Inattention."*)

Maneuvering - Changing of course, speed, or similar boat handling action during which a high degree of alertness is required.

Open Motorboat - Craft of open construction specifically built for operating with a motor, including boats canopied or fitted with temporary partial shelters.

Personal Floatation Device (PFD) - Commonly known as a life jacket or life saving device, a PFD can be a jacket, vest, cushion, or ring buoy designed to serve as a lifesaving aid.

Personal Watercraft (PWC) - A small vessel that uses an internal combustion engine powering a jet pump or propeller. It is designed to carry from one to three persons, and to be operated by a person sitting, standing, or kneeling on the vessel rather than the conventional manner of sitting or standing inside the vessel.

Rules of the Road - Statutory and regulatory rules governing the navigation of vessels.

 

* In the report, California Boating Accident Report for 1993, the term improper lookout included all types of accidents that were caused by failure to perceive danger or by inattentiveness.

These definitions were adapted from the 1996 United States Coast Guard publication, Boating Statistics.

 

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