Section II

Boating Accident Program

This section summarizes 1998 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 reflect every reported boating accident in California in 1998. 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 about 10% of accidents are actually 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 efforts or follow up research from other sources (e.g., newsclippings). 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 772 accidents were reported to the Department in 1998. 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 989 operators were involved in boating accidents in 1998. 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 772 accidents—in order to provide more accurate comparisons.

Alcohol Use

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

Several of the 1998 boating fatalities could not be tested for alcohol for the above reasons.

B. 1998 Accident Summary

Findings

The 772 accidents reported to the Department during 1998 involved 413 injuries, 58 fatalities, and $2.3 million in property damage. The total numbers of reported accidents and injuries and the total property damage were lower than 1997 levels, (925, 526 and $3.3 million, respectively). Reported fatalities were higher than last year (43).

Weather conditions affected California's boating season. As a result of the El Niño effect, throughout much of Northern California, and sections of Southern California, inclement weather conditions were prevalent until mid to late June. Fewer boaters on the waterways resulted in a decrease in the number of accidents.

Cold weather conditions also resulted in late run-off of water from the melting snow pack. Much of this run-off occurred in June, creating hazardous river conditions throughout much of the State. These conditions resulted in the deaths of 9 recreational boaters engaged in whitewater boating activities, 6 of whom died during a one-week period in June. These fatalities are discussed further in the section, Fatal Boating Accidents, on page 25.

Accidents involving PWC also decreased by 42% in 1998. This appears to be attributed to a combination of the poor weather conditions and law changes affecting PWC operators. This decrease is discussed further in the section, Accidents Involving Personal Watercraft, on page 17.

Exhibit II-1 presents boating accident statistics in California from 1980 through 1998.

Exhibit II-2 presents 1998 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 (38%). The most common type of accident involving open motorboats were collisions with other vessels (31%), followed by skier mishaps (18%). Most accidents involving PWC were collisions with other vessels (68%), followed by falls overboard (12%).

The most frequently stated causes of accidents overall were operator inexperience (41%), operator inattention (34%), and excessive speed (28%). Hazardous weather/water was a cause in 18% of accidents. The leading causes of accidents involving open motorboats were operator inexperience and operator inattention. The leading causes of accidents involving PWC were operator inexperience and excessive speed. (A boating accident can have more than one attributable cause.) Overall, the causes were consistent with previous years.

Time and Location

Accidents occurred mostly during the summer months (June through September) on weekends, during the afternoon hours (2:00-6:00pm). Accidents decreased significantly during the month of May when compared with 1997 totals due to inclement weather conditions throughout much of the State.

Exhibit II-4 presents the accidents, injuries, and fatalities by location. Overall, most accidents and injuries occurred on lakes, 43% and 53% respectively, and more occurred on northern lakes.

Exhibit II-1
1980-1998 Boating Accidents in California*

* 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 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
1998 Boating Accidents by County*

*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 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
1998 Boating Accidents by County (cont'd)

* 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 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

Exhibit II-4
1998 Boating Accidents by Location*

* 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 complete loss of a vessel. Not all accidents are reported to the Department, due to either nonobservance or ignorance of the reporting law.

Vessel Type and Length

In 1998, open motorboats accounted for approximately 50% of all vessels registered in California, and PWC accounted for 18%. Open motorboats were involved in 53% of all accidents and PWC were involved in 30% of all accidents. This indicates that PWC were involved in a disproportionately high number of accidents. However, the percentage of PWC involved in accidents has decreased substantially from 42% in 1997. Most vessels (74%) involved in accidents were less than 26 feet long.

Operator Age

Overall, operators in the 21-30 and the 31-40 age groups were involved in accidents more often (22% each) than those in any other age groups. The 31-40 age group was involved most often in open motorboat accidents, followed by the 21-30 age group. The 21-30 age group was involved most often in PWC accidents, followed by the 11-20 age group.

Operator Owner Status

Forty-five percent of all vessels involved in accidents were operated by the registered owner. Forty-two percent of vessels were operated by someone other than the registered owner. Of this group, about one-third were borrowed and 9% 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, 1998, there were approximately 160,919 PWC registered in California, comprising 18% of registered vessels. The table below shows the total number of PWCs registered in California from 1993 through 1998.

Findings

A total of 229 PWC-related accidents were reported in 1998, resulting in 161 injuries, 9 fatalities, and $384,050 in property damage. The total number of reported accidents, injuries, and the total property damage were lower than 1997 levels (391, 276 and $709,450, respectively). The number of reported fatalities was slightly higher than last year (8).

Exhibit II-5
1993-1998 PWC Accidents, Injuries, Fatalities, and Property Damage*

* 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 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-5 presents a five-year summary for PWC accidents, injuries, fatalities, and property damage.

Exhibit II-6 presents 1998 reportable PWC-related accidents by county.

Accounting for 18% of registered vessels, PWC were involved in 16% of all fatalities and 17% of all property damage, but were involved in 30% of all accidents and 39% of all injuries.

As mentioned earlier, while PWC were still involved in a disproportionately high number of accidents, accidents involving them decreased by 42% in 1998. This decrease may be due to a combination of factors. As noted earlier, inclement weather conditions kept many boaters off the water until nearly mid-summer. Since PWC activities often involve bodily contact with the water, cold weather and water conditions may have resulted in lower use and a lower accident rate. (Accidents involving water skiing activities decreased as well.)

Additionally, two new laws affecting PWC operators may have resulted in a decrease in accidents. The first law prohibited activities such as wake jumping within 100 feet of another vessel, spraying down other vessels, and playing "chicken." These activities now constitute endangerment of life, limb, and property. The second law raised the minimum age to operate a vessel of over 15 HP alone from 12 to 16 years of age. Since the vessels of choice of operators between 12 and 16 are PWC, restricting this group's ability to operate vessels may have resulted in a decrease in accidents involving them. This is discussed further in section of this report titled, Accidents Involving Youths, on page 22.

PWC accidents involving fatalities increased slightly from 8 in 1997 to 9 in 1998. Six of the 9 fatalities occurred in regions of the State least affected by weather conditions.

Exhibit II-7 presents registration and accident statistics for open motor boats, PWC, and other vessels during 1998.

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

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

* 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.

Type and Cause of Accidents

Although PWC-related accidents have decreased considerably, types and causes of accidents involving them has remained consistent with findings from previous years.

Most reported PWC accidents involved collisions with other vessels (67%). 12% of accidents involved falls overboard, and 9% involved persons being struck by boats/propellers. Among collisions between two vessels, the other vessel was most often another PWC (64%). The most common causes of all PWC accidents were operator inexperience (69%), excessive speed (56%), and operator inattention (54%). 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 jumping, donuts, or playing "chicken") and following too closely behind another vessel were factors in 46% of the PWC-related collisions (23% each). 28% of all PWC-related collisions involved operators who knew each other and were riding together.

Operator Age

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

Operator Owner Status

69% of PWC involved in accidents were operated by someone other than the registered owner. Of this group, over half (52%) were borrowed and 17% were rented.

Boater Use Study

Several years ago, the Department was concerned about the disproportionality of PWC accidents. For example, in 1998, PWC constituted 18% of the boating population, but were involved in 30% of the accidents. However, if PWC spent more time underway than traditional boats, would the accident rate still be disproportionate? To answer this concern, the Department funded a study that was conducted by California State University Sacramento to survey boat owners to determine the amount of time boats were underway.

The study, conducted in 1995 and 1996, found the following:

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.

In 1998, the law changed; it now requires the operator of a motorboat of more than 15 HP to be at least 16 years of age. Persons 12-15 may operate if a person of at least 18 years of age is attentively supervising aboard the vessel.

(Footnote: Exceptions to this law include the operation of a sailboat that does not exceed 30 feet in length or a dinghy used directly between a moored boat and the shore, or between two moored boats.)

Findings

During the 1998 boating season, youth operators were involved in 9% of all accidents, 12% of injuries, and 10% of fatalities. Exhibit II-8 presents a five-year summary for youth operator accident statistics.

The number of accidents involving youths had remained consistent for three years prior to the 1998 boating season. However, the previously mentioned state law, which took effect in January of 1998, resulted in a substantial decrease (54%) in the number of accidents involving operators under 16 years of age.

Of the 81 youth operators involved in accidents, 37 were under the age of 16, and 5 were under the age of 12. Of the operators under 16, 70% did not have an adult on board.

Fatal accidents involving youth operators increased in 1998. Five youth operators were involved in fatal accidents which resulted in 6 fatalities. Of these 5 operators, 3 were under 16 years of age and of these operators, 2 did not have an adult on board the vessel.

Exhibit II-8
1993-1998 Youth Operator Accidents

Type and Cause of Accidents

Collisions (70%) were the primary type of accident involving youth operators.

Operator inexperience was a factor in 81% of accidents involving youth operators, and was the most common cause of accidents involving them. Operator inexperience was a factor in only 41% of accidents involving operators of all ages. Excessive speed was the second most common cause, followed by operator inattention.

Vessel Type

The vast majority (88%) of youth operators involved in accidents were operating PWC.

Fault Assessment

Youth operators were involved in 49 collisions with other vessels. Most of these collisions (78%) involved youth operators colliding with adult operators. Youth operators were exclusively at fault in 53% of these collisions, compared to 16% for adult operators.

Representative Accidents

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 1998, 58 fatalities occurred on California waterways. This represents 6.5 fatalities per 100,000 registered vessels. The number of fatalities rose from 43 in 1997 (4.8 per 100,000 registered vessels) and is the highest number of boating-related fatalities since 1993 (67 fatalities occurred in 1993, which was also a year in which precipitation was well above average).

(Overall, California has the second highest number of fatalities in the nation, behind Florida, which reported 76 fatal boating accidents during 1997. Texas reported the third highest number of fatalities, with 45.

Type and Cause of Accidents

Exhibit II-9 presents boating fatalities by type of accident and life jacket usage. Most fatalities involved vessels capsizing (31%), followed by falls overboard (28%) and collisions with other vessels (16%). Operator inexperience (40%), hazardous weather/water (38%), and operator inattention (29%) were the primary causes of fatalities. Nearly three-quarters (74%) of the victims drowned. Of that group, 70% were not wearing a life jacket.

Time and Location

As expected, fatalities occurred mostly during the summer months (June through September). Nearly half (47%) occurred on weekends. 35% of fatal accidents occurred on ocean/bay waters, 26% occurred on lakes, and 21% occurred on rivers.

Vessel Type and Length

46% of vessels involved in fatal accidents were open motorboats, followed by PWC at 21%. Even though PWC were involved in 30% 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 lower fatality rate. Nearly all vessels involved in fatal accidents were less than 26 feet in length (93%).

Whitewater Fatalities

As a result of the El Niño effect, California experienced a large amount of precipitation during the winter and spring of 1997-98, especially in the amount of snowfall in the mountains. Unseasonably cool temperatures persisted throughout May and the first half of June in many parts of the State. When temperatures climbed to normal, the snow pack melted quickly, resulting in treacherous river conditions.

The Department issued advisories to the boating public concerning the hazardous conditions through news releases, radio and television interviews, and other public information efforts. In spite of these efforts, people continued to participate in whitewater activities, resulting in the loss of 9 lives.

Eight of the fatalities were the result of vessels capsizing in rough waters. One fatality involved a kayak capsizing after colliding with a raft. Hazardous water conditions coupled with operator inexperience were the causes of all of the accidents. All of the victims drowned all except two were wearing life jackets. Strong currents pulled them beneath the surface of the water despite the jackets.

Exhibit II-9
1998 Fatal Boating Accidents by Type
and Life Jacket Usage

Representative Accidents

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 more while operating a recreational vessel. In 1991, the legal limit 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 to be "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 58 fatalities, 49 were examined to determine their alcohol level. Of these 49 victims, 10 (20%) had blood alcohol levels equal to or greater than 0.035%. Seven of the victims were operators and three were passengers. Five fatalities involved motorized vessels and 5 involved non-motorized vessels.

Type and Cause of Accidents

All 10 alcohol-related fatalities were the result of single-vessel accidents. Five victims fell overboard. Of these victims, 4 drowned and 1 was struck by the vessel's propeller and sustained fatal injuries. The other 5 victims drowned as a result of vessels capsizing. Of the victims who drowned, half were not wearing life jackets and one additional victim was wearing a life jacket that was too large.

Time and Location

Among the 10 alcohol-related fatalities, 4 occurred on rivers, 3 occurred on lakes, 1 in the Sacramento/San Joaquin Delta, 1 on the Colorado River and 1 in ocean/bay waters. Overall, 6 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 andOctober 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 at the top of the next page shows the percentage of alcohol-related fatalities involving motorized vessels (where alcohol-related testing could be conducted) from 1993 to 1998. In 1998, 37 of the 49 victims tested for alcohol-relatedness were killed in accidents involving motorized vessels. Of that group, 14% were alcohol-related. This percentage was significantly lower than any rate during the previous three years.

Representative Accidents

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