18 Perished in US Sailing Tragedies in 2017

Every year, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the United States Coast Guard, and the Office of Auxiliary and Boating Safety publish a report of statistics about recreational boating accidents. The 2017 report was just published and there were fewer sailing deaths than last year. Surprisingly, the numbers of general boating deaths, accidents, injuries, and property damage are down slightly.

It’s an extensive report of:

  • Accident causes and conditions
  • Accident types
  • Operator/passenger information
  • Casualty summaries
  • Boat registration data

It’s well worth reading to learn from the mistakes of others and it’s quite detailed:

  • 83 pages long
  • 38 tables of statistics
  • 16 charts

In a nutshell, the Coast Guard recorded 4,291 accidents that involved 658 deaths, 2,629 injuries and approximately $46 million of damage to property that resulted from recreational boating accidents in 2017. Those figures involved vessels of all types.

Most of the accidents that had casualties involved motorboats and personal watercraft, which is no surprise to most skippers. Readers of this blog will be most interested in the accidents that involved sailboats.

Sailing is a comparatively safe sport. Speeds are slower and it requires more skill to pilot a sailboat. We’ve earned a good safety record but it’s not perfect and we can all learn lessons from this year’s report.

To make it easy to glean and remember the most important points for sailors from this year’s report, I created the following poster. It reflects only the data from the report that is related to sailboats; our own report card, if you will.

What you should take away from this is:

  • Too many people die in sailing accidents every year, including many children. Be a safe skipper.
  • Many more people suffer avoidable life-threatening injuries. Sail responsibly.
  • Know how to recover a crew member from cold water quickly. Be prepared.
  • You’re as likely to have an accident with another boat as anything else. Don’t assume the other guy will do the right thing, you do it.
  • Most accidents are caused by somebody not paying attention. Always keep watch.
  • Everyone should wear a personal flotation device to cut their risk of drowning. Be smart, not stubborn.

You can download your own copy of the report for free here.

You may freely distribute this poster anywhere you want without my permission. In fact, PLEASE DO. Put it on your club’s website, post it on your Facebook page, print it out and pin it up on your marina’s bulletin board, wherever. To make it even easier, click the poster above to download a printable PDF file even if you’re not a subscriber of this blog. Want to subscribe? Read on.

Let’s all help raise awareness about sailing safety and let’s start aboard our own sailboats.

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2 Comments Add yours

  1. Drew Frye says:

    Perhaps the highest profile death in 2018 that I can think of was Jon Santorelli in the Chicago Mackinac race. He was wearing a PFD that did not function and was apparently dead in minutes, probably from cold shock. I can think of a number of ocean racing accidents where they recovered corpses wearing PFDs (Clipper, VOR, Windnuts, other). In other words, don’t rely too much on the accuracy of statistics.

    1. True, they’re no guarantee of survival but they increase the odds in our favor. The best safety device will always be the tool between our ears.

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