Get in the game


2014’s 610 recreational boating fatalities is the second lowest number on record since we began tracking back in the 1990s, but I don’t feel like celebrating.

After reviewing and contemplating the 2014 statistics, I was taken back to my high school football coach and his admonition when a player wanted to sit out for a while to nurse an injury to “Ice it, eat a banana and get back in there!”

Another year’s worth of statistics. Time to start plotting the charts and graphs and develop the necessary reports to distribute across the Eighth District’s sector leadership for their information and visibility as we attempt to target the coming boating season’s operations plans. The process was making every effort to become bureaucratically routine – just another annual task. The very thought of losing sight of the true meaning of these numbers began to irritate me.

I’ve talked about strategies to reduce these numbers and the people they represent with a number of folks, but we haven’t yet been able to come up with much that’s truly different in our approach other than the “tried and true” efforts over the years. Here are some numbers to consider:

Recreational-Boating-Statistics-2014 cover

2 – That’s the difference between 2013’s 4062 reported recreational boating crashes and 2014’s 4064 reported casualties. I’m sure we all agree that the actual number is far greater since we really have no idea how many casualties really occur nationally. I suspect this is the number that was needed for insurance claims and little more. And perhaps not even that, as many recreational boat operators don’t report if they don’t have to. After all, I’ve yet to teach a classroom boater education course where many, if not all, of the students are even aware of the requirement to report. They just file the insurance claim or pay the damages out of their pocket with none of us ever knowing. And I’m not just talking small bumps, dents or scratches to the gel coat. I had to almost threaten a sailing friend that if he didn’t report a collision that involved more than $1000 worth of damage, I would. How many others are out there going unreported? Hundreds? Thousands? I think we’ll all agree there’s a bunch!

58 – The difference between 2013’s 2620 reported injuries and 2014’s 2678 reported injuries. And again, I doubt that we’ve captured them all due to operators that don’t report, knowingly or not, as required by the law.

50 – The difference between 2013’s 560 reported fatalities and 2014’s 610 reported fatalities – an 8.9% INCREASE! And boat registrations are down 1.7% across the states, territories and D.C. from 2013’s 12 million to 2014’s 11.8 million boats.

5.2 – The national fatality rate per 100,000 registered vessels, according to the 2014 Recreational Boating Statistics. This rate represents a 10.6% increase from 2013’s fatality rate of 4.7 deaths per 100,000 registered vessels.

Compared to 2013, the number of accidents increased half of a percent (.05%), the number of injuries increased 2.2%, and the number of deaths increased 8.9%!

610 reported fatalities – 2830 vessels with operators 36 and older killed 393 (64%) of those 610, and injured 1489 (55.6%) of the 2678 reported injuries. 282 (46%) perished on an open motorboat, 167 (27%) perished in a canoe, kayak, rowboat or SUP.

The top five contributing causes of recreational boating fatalities? Still at number one is operator inattention, responsible for 563 crashes and 38 deaths – 14% of total reported crashes with almost 6.2% of the deaths. The next in order are improper lookout, operator inexperience, excessive speed and number five alcohol use coming in at 277 crashes and 108 deaths – 6.8% of the total reported crashes with almost 18% of the deaths. Alcohol use resulted in the fewest crashes of the top five but the most deaths. By the way, 18% of 610 is 110 people. . .

money21r$9.1 million – The value of a human life as recognized by the Environmental Protection Agency, according to an article published in The New York Times on Feb. 16, 2011. With 610 deaths at $9.1 million each, we’re looking at over $5 billion.

Everyone is working with less money than in previous years. We’re also seeing that missions are shifting for marine law enforcement in a changing political environment. We have fewer officers on the water and those that are out patrolling are most often alone and in greater danger, ultimately resulting in less enforcement on a regular basis on heavily transited and dangerous waterways. With increasing calls for the demilitarization of the police nationwide, the special weapons officers do have to protect themselves and others are in danger of being taken away. They’re also working with aging equipment in many cases and when it breaks or needs repair, it’s staying out of service longer.

596So, here we are – seemingly at a plateau in our success. It’s time to change things up and that calls for innovation. But what does innovation really mean? Are we being receptive and thoughtful? Really encouraging one another without shutting each other down? Applying a critical thought process as we evaluate issues and challenges? Or as Jeff Johnson and Kelli Toth from the Alaska Office of Boating safety would ask us, “Are we using a public health model to our approach to reducing property damage, injuries and deaths in recreational boating?”

We need to start some really thoughtful, open-ended, serious and respectful conversation with each other – and boaters – about boating safety in this country. Have you talked with any recreational boaters lately about boating safety and why they may believe it doesn’t apply to them? Many of us have conversations with boaters after an accident, when it’s too late. If we fail to prevent an incident, we must instead respond to the aftermath.

Our basic strategies and tactics haven’t changed much over the years. Even if we are already doing all of those things and more, enforcement alone is not the answer, but neither is education – course graduates get in crashes, too. What can we do in the enforcement and education realm that will result in a positive boater behavior change across the country and reduce crashes, injuries and deaths?

We should all be encouraged with what we are doing with our very limited resources. Such programs as mandatory education, albeit less than consistently applied across the country and life jacket requirements for kids help. Smartphone apps launched by NASBLA, the Coast Guard and BoatU.S. are examples of adapting existing and readily available media to help deliver safe boating information, requirements and capability to get help when needed on the water. But what can we do to help carry a “boating safety priority” message across our own work environments, every day to every employee that would really be something new and innovative?

SpringAboard.FINAL2016_highresNew initiatives like Spring Aboard to get boaters into a classroom are beneficial. We’re keeping younger boaters informed and educated with classroom and online courses, and even with safety and boating under the influence checkpoints. But what are we doing to reach those who are 36 years of age and older – the ones that are causing the majority of the fatal crashes? And what can we as the boating safety brain trust do to craft a boating safety message or thing for them that will resonate and get through?

As a community we’re developing meaningful, risk-based education standards for knowledge-based classroom and online courses and instruction. And I’m encouraged with the U.S. Power Squadron’s Spanish language online course that will be available nationwide soon. The Squadron is also out in front with their boating simulator. A few local and national organizations are beginning to offer hands-on skills-based boating instruction, and we’re working to certify more and better quality instructors to teach these new courses.

saved by beaconThere’s more meaningful outreach than ever before with the Seal of Safe Boating, Saved by the Beacon, North American Safe Boating Week, Ready Set Wear It!, Operation Dry Water, National Marina Day and other locally targeted boating safety events and educational activities and boat shows. Additionally, we’ve worked hard to promote safe and sober boating and encourage life jacket wear through education classes and vessel safety checks, Operation Dry Water, boating under the influence checkpoints and saturation patrols, boating safety fairs, print and electronic media advertising, interviews by knowledgeable officials, life jacket fashion shows and inflatable life jacket demonstrations, and joint task forces.

All are making a positive difference and helping to bring the numbers down, but what else can be done?

Exciting developments in the works will contribute to getting boating safety messages out before boaters get on the water. The NASBLA Education & Outreach Committee is working to identify needs and develop, implement and enhance training with special consideration for boating safety coordinators, specialists and program managers. The Enforcement & Training Committee is hard at work developing and disseminating boating safety messages with an enforcement focus. There’s no doubt that a boating safety education staff working in harmony with the enforcement side of the house can be highly effective in reducing boating casualties.

Are we doing the best we can – can we do better? How can we change our perspective, point of view? Even if we can or do, will it help make a difference in our approach?

Beyond taking a look at the National RBS Strategic Plan and employing its strategies and tactics, I suggest we all go through a paradigm shift and take a look at things differently – a fundamental change in our approach to effectively communicating boating safety as a concept, and the underlying assumptions that we use to do so. It’s time for a new look at the issues.

Boating safety – that’s as easy as riding a bike – Right? While I was poking around on the web trying to figure out how to best approach my paradigm shift concept, I ran across an interesting piece dealing with the notion of assumptions and whether or not what we perceive is really understood. The bottom line premise is that knowledge does not equal understanding. Take a look at the short YouTube video The Backwards Brain Bicycle. The maker of the video, Destin, is quick to point out that – like it or not – we seem often, if not always, to bring our own individual biases, learned behaviors, experiences, attitudes, political posture to whatever it is we’re doing, thinking, communicating – whether we realize it or not. Basically we use our personal opinions as a basis of fact in our own mind – most of the time without stopping even for a moment to recognize it and without even realizing it.

I call it my “No” reflex.

Perhaps you’ve observed the “No reflex” at a meeting or other gathering as someone sets aside advocating for an idea because of a greater need to blend in, not stand out. I’m sure we’ve all heard an idea that we and others didn’t necessarily understand or get at the moment – because of all of those biases and self-imposed limits we bring with us, unintentional or not – subjected to a plethora of negative comments. Some of the commentary might be very subtle, and some not so subtle. Regardless, we shut people and each other down, turning off thought and the enthusiasm for positive change – all by people and the diversity they bring in their perceived need and desire for acceptance. So the idea or question that could queue the conversation leading to real change, a new direction and innovation and the results it could bring never sees the light of day. As the saying goes, graveyards are full of great ideas.

It’s difficult to take that step back and be even remotely objective. And total objectivity just isn’t going to happen for any of us because we just don’t have that clinical detachment from boating safety. We’re too close to it and it is our job. But we’ve got to try if we’re going to have an honest chance at being innovative and really getting these numbers down across the country.

The NASBLA Education & Outreach Committee is working on an innovative idea, based on understanding: a course for non-operators (passengers) in a recreational boat. How many of us have heard someone say they’d take a class but they don’t drive the boat? Kelli Toth’s team looked at 10 years’ worth of data from BARD and figured out that over half the victims that perished in a fatal boating accident were occupants – not the operator. 

This new course is a wonderful way to plant that safety seed into an entirely new audience of people who up until now believed that boating safety education wasn’t relevant to them because they don’t drive the boat!

Editor’s Note: Be sure to check out Kelli Toth’s article, “The Weakest Link,” in which she discusses the Education Standards Panel’s efforts to apply the public health approach to injury prevention and design a new voluntary standard for non-boat operators.

Innovation, an entirely new look in a different dimension to the status quo. A new and different perspective helps. Open, painfully honest but serious conversations, and while doing so, considering the “New Normal” of a demanding environment with increasingly limited resources if we’re going to really get our arms around boating safety and make a significant difference in reducing casualties on the water – if we’re going to do something innovative! Or, decide that we really have “leveled off” and this is as about as good as it’s going to get, plus or minus 10% or so . . . 575 to 625 is (about) as good as we can collectively do, maintaining the Status Quo.

What are we all doing, or not doing – does it matter? Have we really thought about it? Don’t have time? Find it. We, each one of us are the pivot point – the tip of the recreational boating safety spear.

Thoreau said, “It’s not enough to be busy. Even the ants are busy. The question is what are we busy about?”

For some, the position as a state’s boating law administrator is part-time, and many are a one-person shop that also includes education, BARD input and other responsibilities. So the more help, work and action we can get from others, the more effective our boating safety program can be. And that translates to safer waterways and reduced casualties.

Ask for help or a new idea or encouragement when you need it from those around you. Don’t be afraid to share a new idea or concept with a colleague – and don’t shut down a new idea before taking the time to contemplate and digest it. Get the conversation started and brainstorm new and different approaches and solutions to the where, and why of these terrible crashes resulting in such tragic results and how you can affect them.

Use the statistics as a metric for our collective performance, but never forget that we’re really talking about people – the numbers are so much more than statistics. Never forget they are people.

The Coast Guard Office of Boating Safety at Headquarters provides financial assistance through the Sport Fish Restoration and Boating Trust Fund, but what more can the district recreational boating safety specialists do to help states, territories, non-government organizations and other stakeholders be more effective?

When the Coast Guard Sector RBS Workshop rolls around, be prepared to have meaningful and honest, candid conversation talking about what we (collectively) need to do to reduce the number of recreational boating crashes in your jurisdiction. Help make sure the right people are at the table. Bring the folks from your agency with you that can have a direct effect on our joint efforts. Help make sure those stakeholders and NGOs that need to be at the table have a seat.

Be the advocate – always! Be respectful but make boating safety, education and outreach a priority. Make it your priority. We lost 610 people in 2014. That’s11 crashes, $106,505.15 in property damage, 7.3 injuries and 1.67 deaths every day.

Write down or record that random idea when it hits at night, during your commute, or whenever so you don’t lose it. If it doesn’t make sense at the moment, share it with someone else and discuss it – help it take form. And don’t let a lack of enthusiasm by others around you dampen your spirit. You may be contemplating an answer that’ll save one of those lives, spare one of those injuries, reduce the damage – saving time, money and frustration.

We, all of us need to at advocate for the basics – the Four Principles of Boating Safety:

Life jackets save lives – wear yours!

Safe boats save lives – get a vessel safety check!

Education saves lives – take a class!

Sober boating saves lives – don’t drink alcohol and boat!

That’s our elevator speech, courtesy of the National Safe Boating Council and it never gets old. Be relentless!

Yeah! 2014 gave us the second lowest number of reported deaths on record since we started tracking them in Table 29, Deaths, Injuries & Accidents by Year, 1997-2014 on page 54 of the Recreational Boating Statistics. 610 – More than five billion statistical dollars worth of death. But like you, I don’t feel like celebrating.

Let’s find a way to make it zero. I believe that’s possible. No? Did you have a boating accident the last time you went out? Somewhere in this country – probably even in your state there’s somebody’s life that depends on us.

Ice it, eat a banana and get back in there!

Join the discussion

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *