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Two Years After Wake-Up Call on Boating Safety: Is Anybody Listening?

Recently, the National Marine Safety Committee (NMSC) celebrated the second anniversary of its ground-breaking National Boating Usage Study (NBUS). The anniversary, though, raises a salient question: did enough people pay attention to the report?

The study was released in August 2010, at the National Marine Safety Conference in Perth, and was designed to help better inform both the public and marine safety officials when determining policy and contents of educational programs for boaters.

The data was taken from trip diaries filled out by 2,035 boaters who volunteered for the survey and was tabulated over an 18-month period from October 2008 to March 2010. The data included over 300,000 hours on the water covering 32,100 trips. The study uncovered a lot of great information about our boating habits in Australia, but also shed a lot of light on how we can improve boating safety.
Boat Safety
Approximately 10% of the boaters said they use their boats 100 or more times per year. The largest percentage of boaters, approximately 60%, use their boats between 12 and 36 times per year. Saturday was the most popular day by a large margin, with approximately 25% of boating trips. Sunday accounted for 22%.

The most popular point of access for boats was boat ramps at 59%. Private jetties and marinas came in second at 23%. 47% of boating trips began between 6am and 10am, followed by the 10am to 2pm slot with 26% of recorded trips. 43% of those trips lasted between 3 and 5 hours, while 16% were less than 2 hours.

43% of the trips were in estuaries, inlets, bays, and sheltered waters, while 35% were conducted in open waters. 24% of the trips were in cuddy/half cabin cruisers, while 22% were in open runabouts. 11% of the trips were in kayaks, canoes, houseboats, converted commercial craft, or party pontoons. Those of you who like to fish will be happy to know that you have a lot of company: 54% of boating trips were for fishing, with cruising coming in a distant second with 24%.

The report on incidents was equal parts eye-opening, disturbing, and cause for optimism if people simply listen. 1% of boating trips resulted in an incident. While this doesn’t sound like much, it represented 343 incidents in the survey. 61% of those incidents occurred early: within the first two hours of the trips. Even though 45% of the incidents should have been reported to the authorities, only 14% were actually reported.

Incidents mirrored the time of day usage stats, as 44% of incidents happened between 6am and 10am, while 37% happened between 10am and 2pm.19% of incidents were described as “near-misses.” 36% reported no damage, while 25% reported damage to the vessel. 8% reported minor injuries, while 2% reported serious injury.

The good part is that nobody who responded to the survey reported a death. The spokesperson for the survey, NMSC CEO Margie O’Tarpey, said that previous statistics show drowning to be the cause of death in 80% of boating incidents. Meanwhile, even though 98% of boat owners report carrying personal flotation devices (PFDs) on their boats, only 16% wear them on a regular basis.

So, what conclusions can we draw from all of this data? The most important conclusion is that 84% of boaters are at risk of accident, simply because they don’t bother to wear floatation devices. For whatever reason, boaters just don’t seem to like to wear PFDs. There are endless excuses: such as “they ruin my tan,” or “I’m a great swimmer and don’t need to wear a life jacket.” Whatever the excuses are, they are putting boaters at risk.

Another insidious consequence here is that one popular or persuasive person can use peer pressure to convince everyone else on a boat that it is unnecessary to wear a PFD. It’s bad enough to take the risk yourself, but even worse to expect everyone else to share your death wish.

At Revolution Marine Finance, we want to see everyone come back alive from their boating trip. Simply put: even one death is too many. We make it out onto a boat whenever possible, and are appalled at the number of fellow boaters who don’t wear their PFDs.

The evidence is clear, the statistics are valid. The question is still the same as before: is anybody listening?