Tips for avoiding boating accidents this summer in Massachusetts

Boaters can benefit from understanding common causes of boating accidents and measures that can help prevent these accidents.

During the summer, fishing, Jet-skiing, tow sports and sailing represent popular forms of recreation for many Worcester residents and visitors. Unfortunately, these hobbies aren't without risks. In 2014, more than 80 recreational boating accidents occurred in Massachusetts, including five fatal ones, according to data from the U.S. Coast Guard. This danger makes it essential for boaters in the state to understand how to reduce their likelihood of experiencing serious accidents.

Avoid alcohol use

The use of drugs or alcohol can greatly raise the risk of boats colliding, capsizing or playing a role in other serious accidents. Due to the unique stresses that the maritime environment creates, people who are on the water are likely to become more impaired as a result of drinking than they would in other settings, according to the U.S. Coast Guard's Boating Safety Division. This can lead to all of the following adverse effects:

  • Delayed response times and difficulty assessing the situation
  • Decreased depth perception, night vision and peripheral vision
  • Issues with coordination, balance and general motor skills
  • Impaired judgment

Overall, about one-third of fatal boating accidents involve people who are under the influence. Boaters should note that alcohol use on the part of passengers is also risky, as it may enhance the risk that a passenger will fall overboard or drown. Consequently, boaters should avoid drinking while on the water and refrain from operating any watercraft soon after consuming alcohol on shore.

Know best practices

Boaters should also be aware of local rules and protocols for safely operating a boat. According to Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, about 70 percent of boating accidents can be attributed to mistakes on the part of boat operators. Taking a local safety course can help boaters and passengers avoid these common and harmful errors.

Experienced boaters should remember that they might still be at risk for overlooking rules or best practices, especially if they go boating infrequently. The U.S. Coast Guard's Boating Safety Division notes that the average recreational boater spends only about 110 hours each year on the water. By periodically retaking safety courses, boaters can refresh their knowledge and ensure that they are operating their vessels as safely as possible.

Perform safety inspections

Boaters may also be at greater risk for accidents if a boat isn't functioning property or isn't in compliance with state and federal regulations. Boaters should keep up with any mandatory maintenance and periodically schedule a free Vessel Safety Check from the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary. Boat operators should also check for pending recalls of defective and dangerous products, such as electrical components or fuel system parts, that could raise the risk of an accident.

Addressing serious accidents

Unfortunately, these measures may not prevent every boating accident. Boaters may still be at risk for incidents that are beyond their control, such as accidents that occur because of another person's negligence. However, in these cases, people who have been injured or lost a loved one should understand that they might have legal recourse. To learn more, victims may benefit from reviewing the circumstances of the accident and their potential legal options with an attorney.