Boat and Watercraft Injuries

When most people think of vehicle accidents, they think about cars, trucks, or SUVs. But every year, a surprising number of people are injured or killed in accidents involving boats and other watercraft, such as jet skis.

The US Coast Guard keeps detailed statistics, and their 2019 numbers are startling to say the least. That year alone, there were 4,168 documented accidents in the United States, an increase of 0.6 percent over 2018’s numbers.

But what does their report have to say about serious injuries? To find out, we’ll need to dig a little deeper into the numbers.


Of the 4,168 incidents documented in the Coast Guard’s 2019 statistics, there were 613 deaths and 2,559 injuries. In other words, for every documented accident, there were 0.147 deaths and 0.614 injuries. There were also $55 million in total property damage, or a little over $13,000 per accident. When compared with 2018’s numbers, the total number of accidents increased by 0.6 percent, and the number of injuries increased by 1.9 percent. However, the number of deaths actually decreased by 3.2 percent.

As with any statistics, some of these should be taken with a grain of salt. For instance, we can imagine many accidents where a boater gets a small ding in their hull or a minor bruise, and the accident is never reported. In addition, the property damage numbers are probably inflated by sinkings. If someone’s $28,000 boat goes to the bottom of the lake, that’s a total loss, regardless of how it got there.

Fast Facts About Boat and Watercraft Accidents

  • There were 4,168 documented boating accidents in the US in 2019
  • There were 2,559 injuries in those accidents
  • There were 613 deaths caused by those accidents
  • Those accidents also caused $55 million in property damage
  • US boating accidents and injuries were slightly up in 2019, but deaths were slightly down


The US Coast Guard report breaks down accidents by cause. By far the most common cause of accidents is operator error, which was responsible for 2,508 accidents, 263 deaths, and 1,775 injuries. Distracted driving, an inattentive lookout, and inexperience contributed to over 1,500 of these accidents. Alcohol use, excessive speed, and violation of navigation rules accounted for most of the rest.

Environmental factors accounted for the next largest number of accidents, with 552. In these accidents, there were 96 deaths and 279 injuries. Environmental factors include high winds, congested waters, and accidents caused by a wave or wake.

Boating equipment failures accounted for 379 accidents, and loading errors for 172 accidents. Tragically, loading errors caused the largest percentage of deaths, with 57 deaths caused by those accidents. Miscellaneous causes round out the rest of the list, including 281 “other” accidents and 201 that happened for unknown reasons.

In terms of accident type, the most common type of accident was a collision with another vessel, which occurred in 1,071 cases. An additional 906 accidents occurred either due to grounding or due to collision with a solid object. Flooding and falls overboard accounted for a total of 698 accidents, rounding out the five most common types.

The most common type of boat involved in an accident is the open motorboat, with over 2,500 accidents in 2019. This can be attributed to a number of factors. For one thing, it’s a common boat design. For another thing, open boats are more affordable than larger, closed designs, so more inexperienced boaters are operating them.


Out of 2559 injuries in 2019, the Coast Guard listed a number of major categories. The most common type of injury was a laceration, found in 593 cases. A related category, scrapes and bruises, accounted for 352 injuries. Sprains and strains accounted for an additional 138 injuries.

More severe injuries include broken bones, included in 472 cases, concussions, found in 205 cases, and internal organ injuries, found in 129 cases. Dislocations or spinal cord injury occured in 76 cases, and 14 injuries ultimately resulted in amputation. Six people went into shock as a result of their injuries.

Injuries were less common due to environmental factors. 196 people suffered from hypothermia, 101 were burned, three received an electric shock, and 32 suffered from carbon monoxide poisoning. A total of 242 injuries were listed as either “other” or “unknown”.

Note that one major environmental factor is not counted in the injury statistics, because it’s not a cause of injury, it’s a cause of death. In 2019, 439 Americans drowned in boating accidents. In 362 of those cases, the victim was not wearing a life vest.


How much you can expect to receive in a boat or watercraft injury settlement is difficult to determine. It varies on a case-by-case basis, depending on a number of factors. These include:

  • Whether or not another person is at fault for the accident, and what percentage of blame they are at fault for
  • Insurance limits (i.e. if your injury was caused by an Act of God, their may be a limit on how much you receive)
  • The severity of the injuries
  • Local state law, and other variables
That said, a good lawyer can help you obtain a settlement that covers a variety of expenses. These include:
  • Medical expenses
  • Compensation for pain and suffering
  • Additional compensation if the injury resulted in permanent disability


If you or a loved one has been injured in a boating or watercraft accident, don’t try to navigate the legal waters on your own. Find a lawyer who’s experienced in these cases, and who can help you sail safely to your legal destination.

The Law Leaders are a national network of independent law firms who specialize in traumatic injuries of all types. We stand ready to work with you and your family to work for a just solution. We will advocate for you from your first hearing until your final settlement. CALL: 1-800-LAW-LEADERS (800-529-5323) for your free consultation.