Monday, January 26, 2009

Minnesota boating fatality rate lowest on record

The state’s 2008 boating fatality rate was the lowest since the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) started keeping records in 1961. The 12 boating fatalities last year equal 1.38 deaths per 100,000 registered boats.

The DNR attributed the drop in boating deaths to several factors including increased life jacket use, more boaters taking boating safety classes, strong alcohol laws and enforcement, and larger, more stable boats.

“We’re encouraged that water fatality rates continue to fall, but there are still too many people losing their lives,” said Tim Smalley, DNR water safety specialist. “We still have room for improvement.”

Of the 12 fatal watercraft accidents, 11 were single-boat accidents. There were five falls overboard, four boat capsizings, one swamping, and one collision with a submerged object. There was also one fatal collision between two personal watercraft, also called PWCs or water scooters.

“In most cases, we aren’t talking about fiery collisions between high-powered speed boats when it comes to boating deaths,” Smalley said. “They are often one-boat accidents in which the craft capsizes or the victim falls overboard. The victims often have some swimming ability, but they inhale cold water and drown because they aren’t wearing a life jacket.”

Half of the boats involved were non-motorized canoes or paddleboats. Three of the other accidents involved anchored motorboats or boats next to a dock.

Ten of the 12 victims were not wearing a life jacket. Alcohol was a factor in five of the accidents. Cold water was a factor in five of the deaths. All victims were males ranging in age from 14 to 78.


In 2008, there were 33 non-boat related swimming and other drownings in Minnesota, which was the fifth lowest on record. Nineteen drownings occurred in a lake or river, 12 in a pool or tub, and two in a mine pit. Alcohol was a factor in nine drownings. Victim ages ranged from 13 months to 78, with six under the age of 7. Twenty-six victims were male and seven were female.

DNR water safety experts encourage people to wear their life jackets, take a boating course, watch out for other boats, take swimming lessons, and carefully watch their children while near the water.

Water safety information and accident statistics are available on the DNR’s Web site.

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