Distracted Boating

There is a long history of boaters not taking distracted boating on the water as seriously as they take distracted driving. There are distressing indications that boat drivers are increasingly using cell phones and other electronic devices while operating their vessels, creating distracted boating situations that are leading to an increase in boating accidents and injuries.

Why is it that we don’t hear as much about distracted boating as we do distracted driving? The facts about distracted boating need to be shared with the public.

Distracted Boating Facts

Just like a person driving a motor vehicle, boaters must remain focused on steering their boat. Drivers should be on the lookout for other boaters or obstructions in the water as well as changing weather and waves and their charted course.

Like with distracted driving, it can be difficult to identify every single accident that was directly caused by cell phone use. We do know, however, that using a cell phone causes distraction from the primary task of operating a vehicle or vessel, and that distraction increases the risk of accidents.

A recreational boating statistics report for 2012 listed operator inattention as the leading cause of accidents on the water.

According to a Coast Guard statistic, out of 4,730 reported boating accidents in a recent year, 23 percent involved either “operator inattention” or “improper lookout.”

In 2014, Florida had the unfortunate distinction of leading the country in boating accidents and deaths, with distracted boating among the top causes of accidents.

In 2010, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) starting a dual campaign to cut down on both distracted driving and distracted boating, especially within U.S. Coast Guard crews.

In recent years, the U.S. Coast Guard has been reportedly cracking down on crew member texting and talking while operating vessels after multiple crashes thought to be caused by distracted boating.*

National Transportation Safety Board Recommendation

After a string of high profile boating accidents, the NTSB urged the Coast Guard to put new restrictions on distracted boating, in August 2010. Said Chairwoman Debbie Hersman at the time: “The use of wireless communications devices while operating vehicles in any mode of transportation poses an unacceptable distraction…Lives are being unnecessarily put at risk and lost.” The recommendations included restrictions on cell phone use by its officers and to issue a broad safety advisory to the entire maritime industry warning of the risks from cell phones while driving a boat.

In the years leading up to the recommendation, the agency had found increasing evidence that the rapid growth in the use of wireless electronic devices was creating a hazard for drivers, pilots, boaters and train engineers.

*In response to discussions with the NTSB, the Coast Guard prohibited cell phone use by its boat operators and restricted their use by other crewmembers.

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