According to industry statistics, roughly 35 percent of adults in the U.S. participate in recreational boating each year. That’s about 83 million people-not including kids.

The private fleet of powerboats, sailboats and personal watercraft in the country includes more than 16 million boats.

Sadly though, it’s not all fun.

In 2013 there were 4,062 reported boating accidents in the U.S. They resulted in 560 deaths and 2,620 injuries. Below are four questions that need to be answered for safe, responsible boating.

1. Is Your Boat Safe?

Inspect your vessel thoroughly before the boating season begins.

The U.S. Coast Guard recommends all recreational boaters, including personal watercraft and paddle sport users, take advantage of the free Vessel Safety Check program every year.

Vessel examinations take 30 to 45 minutes and can be scheduled at a location and time that’s convenient. Boats that fail the safety check are not reported. The owners simply receive written recommendations for improving safety.

Boats that pass the examination receive a VSC decal that alerts the Coast Guard, Harbor Patrol, and other law-enforcement agencies that the boat was found to be in full compliance with all federal and state boating laws.

2. Do You Wear Life Jackets?

Almost 77 percent of all fatal accident victims in 2013 drowned, and 84 percent of those victims were not wearing life jackets, according to the U.S. Coast Guard.

Accidents on the water can happen with terrifying speed and there’s rarely time to reach stowed life jackets or personal floatation devices (PFDs). The safest solution is to wear PFDs at all times on the water.

UL certifies PFDs and offers a selection and use guide for choosing and maintaining the appropriate type.

“Life jackets don’t work unless you wear them,” said John Drengenberg, UL’s director of Consumer Affairs. “No one plans to fall overboard, but life jackets need to be available, dry and worn. Once you’re in the water, life jackets are almost impossible to find and put on quickly.”

3. Do You Know the Basics of Boating Safety?

Even people who grew up on the water can benefit from boating safety courses offered by organizations like the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary and U.S. Power Squadron.

Courses are taught throughout the country and teach safety techniques tailored to activities like whitewater canoeing, sailing or marine powerboats.

Boating safety courses cover topics like boat handling, weather, electronic navigation and children’s safety. The U.S. Coast Guard maintains a list of courses here.

4. Do You Mix Boating and Alcohol?

According to the U.S. Coast Guard, alcohol use was the top contributing factor in fatal boating accidents in 2013 (when the primary cause was known). In 16 percent of deaths, alcohol was listed as the leading contributing factor.

Please don’t boat under the influence (BUI).

Image by Peter van der Sluijs, via Wikimedia.

  1. National Marine Manufacturers Association - 2011 Recreational Boating Statistics
  2. U.S. Coast Guard - 2013 Recreational Boating Statistics
  3. U.S. Coast Guard - Vessel Safety Check Website