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Stokes: We are responsible for boating safety

"Vessels large may venture more, but little boats should keep near shore." -- Benjamin Franklin

These words dictate caution for modern day boaters.

Although boating accidents have decreased over the years, the numbers are still too high. We can do better, and we should make every effort to do so.

In 2011, Coast Guard reports indicated 4,588 accidents that resulted in 758 deaths, 3,081 injuries and approximately $52 million of property damage.

The fatality rate was 6.2 deaths per 100,000 registered recreational vessels. This rate represents a 14.8 percent increase from 2010's fatality rate of 5.4 per.

Compared to 2010, accidents and injuries decreased, but the number of deaths increased 12.8 percent. Of the 2011 fatalities, 70 percent drowned, and of those, 84 percent were reported as not wearing a life jacket.

Only 11 percent of deaths occurred on boats where the operator had received boating safety instruction. And only 7 percent of deaths occurred on vessels where the operator had received boating safety instruction from an approved course provider.

Emphasizing the quote from Ben Franklin, the most common vessels involved in reported accidents were power boats (47 percent), personal watercraft (19 percent) and cabin boats (14 percent). Eight out of every 10 boaters who drowned were using vessels less than 21 feet in length.

The majority of incidents occurred due to five or more contributing factors: Operator inattention, improper lookout, operator inexperience, excessive speed and machinery failure. Alcohol was the leading contributor and was responsible for 16 percent of all fatal boating accidents.

While any boating accident is tragic, statistics showed 15 children under the age of 13 lost their lives while boating in 2011. Of those, 60 percent died from drowning and 78 percent were wearing a life jacket.

The numbers are paramount regardless of the percent of loss. And while any safe boating program will work if administered correctly, it can only work if we continue to learn the lessons being taught.

James Stevens once wrote: "If a person is being issued a certificate who has little or no boating experience the implications for the safety of other boat users are concerning."

The efforts of the boater safety education program, its volunteers and instructors is monumental to the health and well being of Lowcountry boating enthusiasts. And it should be noted that boaters under 16 years of age are required to pass an approved boater education course before operating, without supervision, a personal watercraft (Jet Ski) or a boat powered by 15 hp motor or more.

For class schedules, contact the S.C. Department of Natural Resources at843-953-9302.

(Many of the statistics above are based on accident data submitted as of April 10, 2012 -- Ref: USCG -- COMDTPUB P16754.25)


The Hilton Head Sail & Power Squadron will be offerning a safe boating course on Saturday, May 11, from 9 to 11 a.m. at the Hilton Head SHARE Center, 6 Office Way. Sail and power boaters are welcome.

Cost is $40, and advanced registration is required. The course, titled "Partners In Command," focuses on what boaters should do if something happens to the primary Captain.

Details: Contact Leslie Gilroy at 843-785-8876 or for information and registration. Or visit