CALIFORNIA BOATING ACCIDENT REPORT FOR 1996

STATE OF CALIFORNIA
THE RESOURCES AGENCY
Division of Boating AND WATERWAYS

May 1997


Dear Boating Enthusiast:

The Division of Boating and Waterways' California Boating Accident Report For 1996 is a comprehensive study of boating accidents in the state. The report provides information, analysis and recommendations based on boating accidents that occurred in the 1996 calendar year. Accident trends from previous years have also been used to identify critical problem areas. The Department has compiled this report with the goal of reducing the number of boating accidents, injuries and fatalities on California's waterways.

California has some of the most accessible, diverse waterways in the nation. One of the primary missions of the Department is to protect the public's right to safe and enjoyable boating. To accomplish this, the Department administers a variety of boating safety, education, and law enforcement programs for the benefit of California's boaters.

Through the successful efforts of the Department, local law enforcement agencies, and boating organizations, California's safety record has improved. Although we can be proud of this, even one fatality is too many. The Department will continue to provide education to boaters, targeting specific problem areas.

One area of concern highlighted in this year's report concerns the rising number of youth operators involved in accidents. In 1996, there were nearly twice as many operators under the age of 16 involved in accidents as there were 4 years earlier. We take accidents involving youth operators very seriously. The Department offers a number of courses for youths that teach safe vessel operation and the rules of the road. We believe that teaching our young people boating and water safety at a young age provides them with safety skills that will last a lifetime.

For more information about this report or other accident statistics, please contact Amy Rigby at (916) 322-1824 or by E-mail: Amy.Rigby@parks.ca.gov.


TABLE OF CONTENTS

Executive Summary

Introduction

Boating Accidents-General Perspective

Alcohol and Fatal Boating Accidents

Accidents Involving Personal Watercraft

Accidents Involving Youths

Glossary of Boating Terms


Tables

1 1996 Reportable Boating Accidents By County

2 1996 Reportable PWC Accidents By County

3 Reportable Boating Accidents 1980-1996

4 Alcohol-Related Fatalities 1996

5 Collisions Between PWC And Another Type Of Vessel--Fault Assessment

6 Totals For PWC-Related Accidents, Injuries, Fatalities And Property Damage In CA 1993-1996

7 Youth Operators And Accidents, Injuries, And Fatalities Involving Them 1993-1996

8 Collisions Between Youth And Adult Operators--Fault Assessment

9 Youth Operators And Injuries And Fatalities Involving Them By Age


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

14 Operators Involved In Accidents By Age

15 Type Of Accident

16 Cause Of Accident

Boating Fatalities

17 Accidents By Month

18 Accidents By Day of The Week

19 Accidents By Time Of Day

20 Vessels Involved In Accidents By Type

21 Vessels Involved In Accidents By Length

22 Operations Involved In Accidents By Age

23 Operation At Time Of Accident

24 Type Of Accident

25 Cause Of Accident

26 Accident Locations

27 Age Of Victim

28 Cause Of Death




EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

The Division of Boating and Waterways has compiled this report with the goal of reducing the number of boating accidents, injuries and fatalities that occur on California's waterways.

Under existing law, boat operators who are involved in accidents are required to submit written accident reports to the Department under specific conditions. These reports are used to analyze boating accident trends and to identify areas of concern so that Department efforts can be directed to promote boating safety and education, and to train law enforcement officers.

The California Boating Accident Report for 1996 provides information, analysis and Recommendations based on boating accidents that occurred in the 1996 calendar year. Accident trends from previous years have also been used to identify critical problem areas.

SIGNIFICANT FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS

In 1996, a total of 850 boating accidents, involving 537 injuries, 56 fatalities and $2,241,700 in property damage, were reported to the Department. The number of accidents, injuries, and fatalities are all higher than 1995 totals. The number of accidents is the highest since 1987 and the number of injuries is at an all-time high.

FINDINGS

Collisions were the primary cause of alcohol-related accidents during the 1996 boating season. Nine of the 14 alcohol-related fatalities (64%) resulted from vessel collisions.

Recommendations:

The Department plans to produce a public safety announcement which will focus on the dangers of drinking alcohol while boating. The Department also continues to encourage the use of ‘Boating Under the Influence' checkpoints by law enforcement agencies.

FINDINGS

Hazardous weather and water conditions were the most common cause of boating fatalities in 1996, contributing to 45% of fatal accidents. Many of these accidents happened on ocean and bay waters and occurred because operators went boating even though small craft advisories were posted.

Recommendations:

The Department plans to place billboards in areas where accidents are the most prevalent. These billboards will contain important safety messages for boaters. The billboards will be strategically placed where boaters will see them, i.e.: on roadways leading to launch ramps and marinas.

FINDINGS

Accidents involving personal watercraft (PWC) continued to increase in 1996. The 385 accidents involving PWC resulted in 298 injuries and 8 fatalities.

Half of all PWC accidents involved collisions with other PWC. In 44% of these collisions, the operators knew each other and were riding together.

Seventy percent of the PWC involved in accidents were being used by someone other than the registered owner; 56% of the PWC involved in accidents were borrowed and 14% were rented. Many of these operators were not familiar with the operation of jet-powered vessels.

Recommendations:

The Department is now in the process of creating two boating safety courses that emphasize the proper operation of PWC. One course is designed for high school-age boaters. The other course is designed for operators of all ages and will be available to the general public. Because it is a common practice for PWC operators to ride together, these courses will also contain safety tips such as the importance of keeping a safe following distance from other PWC.

The Department has also developed a PWC public safety announcement which will be sent to television stations throughout California. Furthermore, the Department has produced a PWC instructional video that will be distributed to marine dealers, PWC clubs, and other boating groups. To obtain a free copy, write to the Department or call (916) 445-6281.

FINDINGS

The number of youth operators, accidents involving them, and the injuries and fatalities resulting from these accidents have continued to increase. In 1996, 136 youth operators were involved in 117 accidents which resulted in 95 injuries and 3 fatalities.

Recommendations:

The Department has developed two comprehensive youth-based boater education programs that focus on safe boat handling and rules of the road. One program is designed for grades 6-8 and the other is designed for the high school level. The high school program will be updated during 1997 and will be available to schools in December, 1997.

Each year, young children contribute to PWC accidents because they gain access to the vessel's controls while riding in front of an adult. In many cases, the adult became separated from the child and the craft, leaving the child alone aboard the vessel while it was under power. Some of these accidents have resulted in injuries to the children, and could have easily resulted in a fatality.

Recommendations:

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, which has resulted in accidents. Seating a young child behind a PWC operator is unsafe as well, since he or she can easily fall overboard. For these reasons the Department recommends that young children do not ride PWC and this Recommendations will be added to the safety information offered by the Department.

INTRODUCTION

California's rivers, lakes, bays, and coastal areas offer boating enthusiasts a wide variety of recreational opportunities, including 1,356,780 surface acres of water, 30 popular whitewater rivers with approximately 2,600 miles of waterways, and 3,427 miles of coastline and tidal shoreline.

Because of the popularity of boating in California, the variety of waterways, and the growth of California's population, the number of vessels registered in the state has increased 29% in the last decade from 682,125 in 1986 to 881,092 in 1996.

The mission of the Division of Boating and Waterways is to provide 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 safety, education, and law enforcement programs, and provides loans and grants for the construction of small craft harbors and boat launching facilities.

California's boating accident program is mandated by Part 173 of Title 33 of the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations. 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 accident report with the Department when:

The purpose of this program is to provide a data base for accident analysis, which is then used as a tool for identifying areas of concern so that the Department's activities can be directed to promote boating safety, education, and law enforcement in those areas. Information contained in the accident reports is confidential and may not be used in prosecuting any violation which may have occurred, nor in any civil litigation. The details of each reported accident are analyzed to determine the cause, how the accident might have been prevented, and other specific safety-related problems.

The California Boating Accident Report for 1996 does not include information on all boating accidents that occurred in California in 1996. The U.S. Coast Guard and the American Red Cross have estimated that only about 10% of the accidents that occur are reported to state programs nationwide due to ignorance of the reporting law or difficulties in enforcing that law. Although the reporting of nonfatal and nonserious injury accidents is especially low, we believe that the vast majority of fatal and serious injury boating accidents in California are reported to the Department. In 1996, 850 accidents, 537 injuries, and 56 fatalities were reported to the Department. If only 10% of boating accidents were reported to the Department, we estimate there may have been as many as 8,500 boating accidents in California in 1996.

Based on accident trends in the past, the Department has made Recommendations to the Legislature for changes in California boating law and has developed safety and educational campaigns for such activities as water-skiing, personal watercraft operation, hunting and fishing from boats, and boating and alcohol consumption. Accident report analysis has also contributed to the development of a whitewater boating course, conducted by the American Red Cross, a Kindergarten-12th grade educational program developed by the Department of Education in conjunction with the Division of Boating and Waterways, and other boating safety courses offered through schools and universities.

BOATING ACCIDENTS--GENERAL PERSPECTIVE

In 1996, 850 accidents, involving 537 injuries, 56 fatalities, and $2,241,700 in property damage, were reported to the Department. The number of accidents, injuries, and fatalities are all higher than the 1995 totals of 833 accidents, 490 injuries, and 52 fatalities. The 1996 total property damage is lower than the 1995 total, which was $2,536,500.

Summary Of The General Findings From 1996

1996 Reportable Boating Accidents By County

                                                                    Property
County              Accidents           Injuries        Fatalities     Damage
 
Alameda                  6                  0               3          $83,200
Amador                   6                  5               0            2,000
Butte                    2                  0               0           13,000
Calaveras               10                  8               1            7,300
Colusa                   2                  0               2              800
Contra Costa            26                 15               0           89,400
El Dorado               13                  6               4           25,400
Fresno                  17                 10               1           31,750
Humboldt                 4                  1               1           19,100
Imperial                15                  7               0           18,200
Kern                    20                 13               0           24,200
Kings                    3                  2               0              800
Lake                    13                 12               1           26,600
Los Angeles             82                 37               4          322,400
Madera                  11                  9               1           17,050
Marin                    6                  1               4           33,500
Mendocino                1                  2               0                0
Merced                   4                  1               2            4,100
Mono                     2                  1               1                0
Monterey                10                  7               0          159,600
Napa                    27                 25               0           38,700
Nevada                   5                  3               1            2,000
Orange                   7                  3               2           37,800
Placer                  24                 12               1          76,300
Plumas                   4                  1               0            8,400
Riverside               80                 57               1          115,650
Sacramento              25                 14               1           68,700
San Bernardino          69                 44               5          114,250
San Diego               77                 57               0          170,250
San Francisco            5                  3               0           43,600
San Joaquin             37                 20               3          159,550
San Luis Obispo         25                 20               4           42,950
San Mateo                5                  3               4           12,000
Santa Barbara            8                  1               0           61,750
Santa Clara             17                  9               0           29,250
Santa Cruz               4                  4               1           23,000
Shasta                  58                 42               0           34,500
Solano                  11                  7               5           21,100
Sonoma                  14                 10               0           32,500
Stanislaus              26                 16               1           32,500
Sutter                   2                  1               0            2,000
Tehama                   1                  2               1                0
Trinity                 19                 15               0           39,900
Tulare                  13                 10               1           24,300
Tuolumne                17                 12               0           32,950
Ventura                  7                  0               0          133,100
Yolo                     6                  6               0            4,300
Yuba                     4                  3               0            2,000

TOTALS                 850                537               56      $2,241,700
 

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 ignorance of the reporting law.


1996 Reportable Accidents Involving PWC By County

        
                                                                Property
 County            Accidents     Injuries     Fatalities        Damage

Amador                  2           2              0                 $0
Calaveras               4           3              1              3,500
Colusa                  1           0              1                  0
Contra Costa            4           4              0                  0
El Dorado               5           3              0             19,800
Fresno                  5           5              0             20,800
Imperial                9           4              0              8,000
Kern                   14           9              0             12,600
Kings                   3           2              0                800
Lake                    8           8              0              6,700
Los Angeles            35          21              0             41,450
Madera                  6           5              0              3,900
Marin                   1           1              0              1,500
Mendocino               1           2              0                  0
Monterey                4           4              0              3,800
Napa                   15          16              0             19,200
Nevada                  1           1              0                  0
Placer                 12           7              0             40,250
Plumas                  2           0              0              6,000
Riverside              59          48              1             63,650
Sacramento             10          10              0             21,800
San Bernardino         36          26              3             55,950
San Diego              47          43              0             37,200
San Joaquin            12          10              0             14,950
San Luis Obispo        12           9              1             16,050
Santa Clara            15           9              0             24,000
Shasta                 12          11              0              8,200
Solano                  1           1              0                600
Sonoma                  6           5              0             21,700
Stanislaus             17          11              1             18,500
Trinity                 8           6              0             14,600
Tulare                  7           5              0             12,250
Tuolumne                5           4              0              5,250
Yolo                    4           2              0              3,300
Yuba                    2           1              0              2,000

TOTALS                385           298            8           $508,300

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 ignorance of the reporting law.

 

Reportable Boating Accidents In California 1980-1996


Year    Total Number     Total Number    Total Number     Total Amount 
        of Accidents     of Injuries     of Deaths        of Property Damage


1980      657               270             112             $2,039,800

1981      728               319              87             $3,655,630

1982	  696               323             103             $2,497,000

1983      648               333              95             $3,713,100

1984      791               341              93             $2,491,700

1985      869               403              76             $4,246,400
1986      743               319              68             $2,645,500

1987      905               325              54             $3,381,600

1988      745               333              51             $2,396,100

1989      632               371              43             $3,669,800

1990      761               416              50             $3,131,200

1991      750               421              58             $2,653,800

1992      689               447              59             $4,360,100

1993      743               434              67             $2,052,800

1994      709               386              40             $1,740,300

1995      833               490              52             $2,536,500

1996      850               537              56             $2,241,700

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 ignorance of the reporting law.

 

 

ALCOHOL USE AND FATAL BOATING ACCIDENTS

OBSTACLES TO ACCURACY

The issue of accurate reporting and analysis of boating accidents where alcohol is a factor has been a problem for a variety of reasons, as described below:

Relying on Witness Accounts

Often there is a delay between the occurrence of a fatal accident and the arrival of law enforcement officers at the scene. Reporting the accident may be delayed for 12 hours or more because persons involved want to wait until the next morning to report an accident or they are too distraught to notify authorities. In alcohol-related accidents, this delay can result in the loss of evidence, due to alcohol burn-off, and the fact that operators are unlikely to report themselves as having been under the influence of alcohol at the time of the accident. Also, in some cases where victims are seriously injured, transporting them to treatment takes priority over blood alcohol testing, and alcohol information is lost.

Delayed Recovery

Delayed recovery is the largest obstacle to collecting reliable data on blood alcohol levels. It is often the case that the bodies of boating accident victims are not recovered or are recovered weeks or months later when the effects of putrefaction* render blood analysis invalid. Authorities indicate that where there is a delay in the recovery of a body of more than two days, serious doubt develops as to the accuracy of any blood alcohol findings.

*Putrefaction is the decomposition of organic matter. Due to bacterial action and oxidation, a body may produce its own alcohol during this process, which then results in a false reading for alcohol use.

RESULTS OF PREVIOUS ALCOHOL STUDIES

In January of 1986, the Department submitted a study to the California Legislature, Boating Safety Report, of alcohol-related accidents involving motorized vessels that occurred between November 1, 1983 and October 31, 1985. A significant finding of that report was that 59% of all fatalities involving motorized vessels were alcohol related where testing could be conducted. The Department conducted a second two-year alcohol study between January 1, 1993 and December 31, 1994. This study found that 23% of all fatalities involving motorized vessels were alcohol related where testing could be conducted. This finding was a substantial reduction from the results of the 1986 report. Several factors may have influenced this reduction. Since the 1986 report, new laws regarding boating under the influence have been passed. (Please refer to the following section for specific law changes.) Public awareness concerning alcohol use has increased as well. Furthermore, beginning in 1987, the Department began to provide specialized alcohol enforcement training for on- the-water peace officers. The Department also stresses the importance of boaters avoiding alcohol in a variety of public education programs, posters, pamphlets, and public service announcements. The new findings regarding alcohol and boating are encouraging. The Department will continue to monitor alcohol involvement in boating accidents on a yearly basis so that Department activities can be directed to promote boating safety, educational, and law enforcement endeavors.

STATE LAWS CONCERNING BOATING UNDER THE INFLUENCE OF ALCOHOL

In 1987, state law made it illegal to have a blood alcohol level of .10% or above while operating a vessel. In 1991, this level was lowered to .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 vehicular driver's license.

PARAMETERS FOR THE 1996 ALCOHOL DATA

The California Boating Accident Report for 1996 analyzes only fatal boating accidents for alcohol-relatedness. A blood alcohol level of .035% was used to determine whether or not a person was "under the influence." 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. Of the 56 fatalities, only 41 could be used in our examination of alcohol-relatedness due to the difficulties in determining alcohol use/nonuse, noted earlier. Each year, Department staff work closely with coroners' offices in order to ensure the most fair and accurate analysis of cases where there were delayed recoveries and/or decomposition of blood samples.

REPRESENTATIVE ACCIDENTS

FINDINGS

Table 4 shows the categorical breakdown of the fatalities used to determine alcohol-relatedness in 1996. Of the 56 fatalities, 15 could not be used in the analysis due to either putrefaction, disappearance of the victim, or the fact that there was no testing conducted for alcohol content. The remaining 41 fatalities were used to determine alcohol use.

 

Alcohol Relatedness--All Vessels

Forty-one fatalities were used to determine alcohol-relatedness for all vessels. Of this group, 34% were found to be alcohol related.

Alcohol Relatedness--Motorized Vessels Only

Of the 41 fatalities, 8 involved only non-motorized vessels and were subtracted, leaving a group of 33 fatalities. Of these 33 fatalities, 39% were found to be alcohol related.

Accident Specifics

In 1996, there were 12 alcohol-related boating accidents involving 14 victims and 21 vessels. Ten vessels were open motorboats, 5 were PWC, 3 were cabin motorboats, 2 were pontoons, and 1 was a canoe. Ages of those under the influence of alcohol ranged from 23-53 years.


ALCOHOL-RELATED FATALITIES 1996


TABLE 4

Vessel Type
Fatalities
All Vessels  Motorized Vessel Only
Number of Victims--
Alcohol Not Involved
                    
27  20
Number of Victims--
Alcohol Involved
14 13

Total Victims Used In
Analysis

41
33


Date/Time of Occurrence

The fatalities occurred from 10:00 a.m. through 11:30 p.m with the most occurring from 4:01 through 6:00 p.m. All of the fatalities occurred from April through September, with the most occurring in June. Fifty percent of the fatalities occurred on weekends.

Location

Six of the 14 fatalities occurred on inland lakes, 3 occurred in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, 3 on the Colorado River, 1 in ocean/bay waters, and 1 on another river.

Eight of the 14 fatalities occurred in Northern California and 6 occurred in Southern California.

Type of Accident Collisions

The majority of alcohol-related fatalities were the result of two vessels colliding. This finding is a distinct departure from the findings noted in the 1993 and 1995 reports, where falls overboard accounted for the majority of fatalities.

Nine of the fatalities (64%) resulted from vessel collisions. Two victims were sober operators involved in collisions with intoxicated operators and 4 were passengers aboard vessels involved in alcohol-related collisions. The remaining 3 victims were intoxicated operators who collided with other vessels.

Falls Overboard/Capsizing

Three alcohol-related fatalities involved intoxicated passengers falling overboard. One accident involved an intoxicated operator who drowned when his vessel capsized. None of these victims were wearing life jackets.

Although these accidents did not make up the majority of victims involved in alcohol-related accidents as in previous years, the fact that they occurred underscores the point that alcohol use by passengers can be deadly. An intoxicated passenger aboard a vessel can easily fall overboard and drown or be run over by the vessel. Therefore, based on these findings, and those of the 1993 and 1995 boating season, the Department recommends that neither operators nor passengers drink alcoholic beverages while boating.

RECOMMENDATIONS:

Although the level of alcohol use in fatal boating accidents has dropped since the mid-80's, it has risen from the level seen in 1995. Also, collisions were the primary cause of alcohol-related accidents during the 1996 boating season. Nine of the fatalities (64%) resulted from vessel collisions. The Department needs to increase it's educational efforts in this area.

To meet this need, the Department plans to provide the following educational material:

DRUG-RELATED FATALITIES

Three fatalities involving drugs were reported in 1996; all involved the use of methamphetamines. Unlike alcohol testing, drug testing has indefinite thresholds at which a person is considered to be "under the influence." These drugs are illegal regardless of the amount of the drug present. However, whether or not the drug affected a person's competence is not clear in many cases, especially since, unlike alcohol, some drugs stay in the bloodstream for extended periods. These factors make the evaluation of drug-related accidents difficult and the analysis of these accidents is beyond the scope of this report.


ACCIDENTS INVOLVING PERSONAL WATERCRAFT

BACKGROUND

A personal watercraft (PWC) is a small vessel that uses an internal combustion engine powering a jet pump or a 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.

California law states that it is an infraction for a person under 12 years of age to operate a motorboat over 10 HP designed to carry only one person. In addition, any person who permits a person under the age of 12 to do so is guilty of an infraction. A person under 12 may operate a motorboat designed to carry at least two persons if accompanied by a person 18 years of age or older*.

*Effective January 1, 1998, California law states that it is an infraction for a person under 16 years of age to operate a motorboat over 15 HP designed to carry only one person, unless the vessel is a sailboat 30 feet or under in length, or a dinghy used between a moored vessel and the shoreline or another moored vessel. In addition, any person who permits a person under the age of 12 to do so is guilty of an infraction. A person under 12-15 years of age may operate a motorboat greater than 15 HP if accompanied by a person 18 years of age or older, who is attentive and supervising the operation of the vessel.

As of December 31, 1996, there were approximately 141,213 PWC registered in California, comprising 16% of registered vessels.

REPRESENTATIVE ACCIDENTS

FINDINGS

During the 1996 boating season, 385 PWC-related accidents were reported to the Department which resulted in 298 injuries, 8 fatalities, and $508,300 worth of property damage.

The percentage of PWC-related accidents is much higher than expected when compared with PWC registration totals. Department of Motor Vehicles information indicates that PWC account for 16% of all vessels registered in California. According to Division of Boating and Waterways statistics, PWC were involved in 45% of all accidents, 55% of all injuries, 14% of all fatalities, and 23% of all property damage.

Accidents Involving Injuries and Fatalities

Injuries resulting from PWC accidents accounted for over half of the total injuries in 1996. The fact that PWC operators and passengers are in an exposed position, sitting on the craft, rather than in the craft, contributes to these injuries. Unlike the PWC accident and injury percentages which well exceed registration totals, the percentage of registered PWC and the percentage of PWC-related fatalities are about equal and have been in previous years. PWC represented 16% of registered vessels and were involved in 14% of all boating fatalities. The percentage of PWC-related fatalities would have exceeded the percentage of registered PWC if it had not been for the voluntary use of life jackets by PWC operators. As in previous years, several PWC operators were injured severely, but were kept afloat by their life jackets until help arrived.

Fatal Accident Descriptions

Eight PWC-related fatalities occurred during the 1996 boating season. Five of the fatalities involved collisions with other vessels. Of these 5 fatalities, 4 occurred between PWC and vessels other than PWC. In one case, the PWC operator was at fault, in one case the other vessel operator was at fault, and in two cases, fault was shared between both operators. The fifth collision occurred between two PWC.

Two PWC-related fatalities involved people who were struck by vessels. The first fatality involved a PWC towing a water-skier. The skier was struck and killed by an open motorboat. The PWC operator was not at fault in this accident. The second fatality involved a PWC operator who was attempting to spray a person on the shoreline and struck her instead, killing her. The eighth fatality involved a PWC operator who fell overboard and drowned.

Type of Accident

Collisions with other vessels made up the majority of accidents involving PWC. In 1996, of the 385 accidents involving PWC, 266 accidents (69%) involved a collision with another vessel. Of these collisions, the vast majority involved collisions between two PWC; 189 (71%) involved a PWC colliding with a second PWC, and 77 (29%) involved a PWC colliding with a vessel other than a PWC.

PWC operators who fell overboard accounted for 15% of accidents; PWC operators who grounded their vessels accounted for 6% of accidents. (Both of these types of accidents doubled from the 1995 accident totals.) Persons who were struck by vessels accounted for 5% of PWC accidents. This category was comprised mainly of either PWC operators who struck individuals, or other boaters who struck PWC operators who were attempting to reboard their vessels.

Operation at the Time of Accident

Since collisions between two PWC are the most common type of PWC-related accidents, a study was made of these accidents. The analysis showed that when two PWC collided, 44% of the cases involved operators who knew each other and were riding together. A significant finding was that most of these collisions involved 2 distinct types of activity prior to the collisions. The first type of activity involved two operators traveling one behind the other. The operator in the rear was following at an unsafe distance and the operator in the lead made a turn without looking, and a collision resulted. This activity resulted in 50% of the accidents. The second type of activity involved radical maneuvers which included wake jumping, donuts, playing chicken, or most often, purposely spraying another vessel. These types of activities caused 25% of the collisions.

The above mentioned radical maneuvers are not only the cause of many collisions between two PWC, but are also the cause of other types of accidents as well. These maneuvers preceded 23% of all PWC accidents and accounted for some very serious injuries as well as one fatality during the 1996 boating season.

An additional cause of many PWC-related accidents is operator inexperience in operating jet-powered vessels. Many operators do not realize that when they let off the throttle, they lose steering capacity. Numerous accidents have resulted from this lack of knowledge.

Accident Fault by Vessel Type

The 77 accidents that involved a PWC colliding with a vessel other than a PWC were reviewed to determine operator fault. Personal watercraft operators were solely at fault in 60% of the accidents, while operators of vessels other than PWC were solely at fault in 21% of the accidents. In 18% of the accidents, fault was shared between the two operators. (Please see Table 5 for further information) These findings are almost identical to the results of last year's fault analysis.

TABLE 5

COLLISIONS BETWEEN PWC AND ANOTHER TYPE OF VESSEL FAULT ASSESSMENT

Vessel Type Accidents in which the operator of this vessel type was at fault
PWC operator 46
Operator of vessel other than PWC 16
Both vessel operators at fault 14
Fault unknown 1
TOTAL 77

 

Accident Causes

Operator inexperience was the most common cause of accidents, occurring in 49% of all PWC-related accidents, followed closely by operator inattention (47%) and excessive speed (43%). Many accidents had more than one cause.

Age of Operator

PWC operators from the 21-30 age group were involved in more accidents than any other age group, followed closely by the 11-20 age group. The median age of a PWC operator was 24 and the average age was 25.5. The median age of all vessel operators involved in accidents was 31 and the average age was 32.4. Operators under the age of 18 accounted for 22% of PWC operators involved in accidents.

Type of Operator

Of the 585 PWC involved in the 385 accidents, 70% were being used by someone other than the registered owner; 56% of PWC involved in accidents were borrowed and 14% were rented. Twenty-six percent were being used by the registered owner, and in 4% of the cases, this information was unknown.

TABLE 6

TABLE 6 TOTALS FOR PWC-RELATED ACCIDENTS, INJURIES, FATALITIES AND PROPERTY DAMAGE IN CALIFORNIA 1993-1996

1993 248 178 5 $306,900
1994 257 178 7 $294,800
1995 353 226 6 $579,550
1996 385 298 8 $508,300

 

Lack of Visibility

Personal watercraft sometimes present a danger to their riders because of the craft's lack of visibility if it capsizes. Accidents have occurred because riders who are attempting to remount their PWC are not visible to other watercraft, and collisions occur.

RECOMMENDATIONS:

To meet this need, the Department will be offering the following PWC education material:

Public Safety Announcement

The Department has just completed the production of a public safety announcement highlighting the dangers of PWC operators performing radical maneuvers. The PSA will be distributed to television stations throughout California.

PWC Safety Video

The Department has produced a PWC safety video that contains information regarding rules of the road, operating instructions, and other safety information. The Department plans a wide distribution of this video. Groups that will be given copies include educators, marine dealers, establishments that rent PWC, PWC clubs, and boating organizations.

PWC Practical Handling Courses

As mentioned in the California Boating Accident Report For 1995, the Department is now in the process of creating two courses to train boaters in the proper operation of PWC. This effort is split into two types of education materials:

High School PWC Safety Education Course

PWC Practical Handling Curriculum

ACCIDENTS INVOLVING YOUTH OPERATORS

ACCIDENTS INVOLVING YOUTH OPERATORS


BACKGROUND

California law requires a person to be at least 12 years of age to operate a motorboat with more than 10 HP. If a person is under 12, a person 18 years of age or older must be on board the vessel. This law went into effect in 1987.

REPRESENTATIVE ACCIDENTS

Accident Specifics

The 1996 accident data regarding youth operators shows that the total number of youth operators involved in accidents, accidents involving them, and injuries and fatalities resulting from these accidents have risen from 1995. During the 1996 boating season, youth operators were involved in 14% of accidents, 18% of injuries, and 5% of the fatalities. Of the 136 youth operators, 89 were under the age of 16. (Table 7 provides information regarding youth operators since 1993.)       

TABLE 7

Youth Operators and Accidents, Injuries, and Fatalities Involving Them
1993-1996

Year Operators Accidents Injuries   Fatalities
1993 77 67 51 7
1994 99 86 63 3
1995 135 110 80 1
1996 136 117 95 3

 

 

Cause of Accident

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 33% of accidents involving operators of all ages. Operator inattention was the second most common cause, followed by excessive speed.

Other Significant Findings

Two Party Accidents and Operator Fault


In 1996, youth operators were involved in 91 collisions with other vessels.
Nineteen involved collisions between two youth operators and 72 involved youth
operators colliding with adult operators. The 72 accidents involving youth
operators versus adult operators were analyzed to determine which operator
was at fault. The results are found in Table 8.

The findings regarding operator fault show that in collisions between youth and
adult operators, youth operators were twice as likely to be exclusively at fault.
Youth operators were solely at fault 39% of the time, compared to 21% for adult
operators. Both operators were found to be at fault 40% of the time.

In 1995, a similar analysis showed youth operators to be 3 times as likely to be
exclusively at fault. Youth operators were found to be exclusively at fault 48% of
the time, compared with 17% for adult operators, and both operators were
found to be at fault 28% of the time.

Table 9 contains supplementary information regarding youth operators.

TABLE 8

COLLISIONS BETWEEN YOUTH AND ADULT OPERATORS FAULT ASSESSMENT
Operator Accidents In Which This Operator Was At Fault
Youth operator only 28
Adult operator only 15
Both operators at fault 29
Total 72

 



TABLE 9

YOUTH OPERATORS AND INJURIES, AND FATALITIES
INVOLVING THEM BY AGE

Age
Number of
Operators
Injuries Fatalities
5* 1 1 0
9 2 2 0
10 4 4 0
11 8 6 0
12 13 8 3
13 12 10 0
14 20 15 0
15 29 23 0
17 25 17 0
TOTALS 136 104** 3



*For a description of this accident, please see the section Young Children and PWC.

**Nine injuries were double counted because the operators involved in these accidents were minors
from different age groups. The total number of injuries involving all minor operators was 95.



YOUNG CHILDREN AND PWC
In the last several years, the Department has received boating accident reports
involving young children who cause or contribute to PWC accidents.

REPRESENTATIVE ACCIDENTS FROM 1996

FINDINGS

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's controls and
can easily manipulate them, which has resulted in accidents. Seating a young
child behind a PWC operator is unsafe as well, since he or she can easily fall
overboard.


RECOMMENDATIONS

The number of youth operators, accidents involving them and the number
of injuries and fatalities resulting from those accidents have increased.
Continued emphasis is needed in the area of youth operator education.

The Department plans to meet this need in two ways over the coming year:

AquaSMART Junior High Educational Program

The Department has developed
a new program for grades 6-8 that focuses on teaching boating safety to junior
high school students. This program is now part of the K-8 AquaSMART
educational series that the Department offers.

High School PWC Education Course

The Department is in the process of
developing a boating education course for teens. It will focus on safe PWC
operation and rules of the road. The course will be made available to all high
schools in California and is designed to be easily incorporated into existing
curriculums. Anticipated availability of the program is December 1997.


The Department also recommends that young children do not ride on
PWC, due to the dangers they present to them. This Recommendations will be
added to the safety programs and literature offered by the Department.

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 - Motorboats with a cabin which 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.

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 Flotation Device (PFD) - (Commonly known as a life jacket or life saving device) A PFD can be a jacket, vest, cushion, or ring buoy that will serve as a lifesaving aid. PFDs must be U.S. Coast Guard approved.

Personal Watercraft (PWC) - A small vessel that uses an internal combustion engine powering a jet pump or a 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

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