Feb. 13, 2019
Randy Zellers Assistant Chief of Communications
HOT SPRINGS — According to the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission’s recently published annual summary of boating accidents in Arkansas, people who spent time on the water last year saw a 9 percent decrease in boating accidents and a 36 percent decrease in the number of boaters who died from boating accidents.
A total of 60 reported boating accidents occurred in 2018, resulting in an estimated $456,220 in property damage, 29 injuries requiring medical attention and seven fatalities. Six of those seven victims drowned.
“Every year we see the same thing, if adult boaters would wear a properly fitting and functional life vest, we would avoid nearly all of the fatalities we see on the water,” said Capt. Stephanie Weatherington, AGFC boating law administrator. “Three of the six individuals who drowned were not wearing a life vest, and the other three were either worn improperly or the life vest was found to be in poor condition with flotation missing or damaged.”
Weatherington says many people carry life vests on board their boat just to be legal, but fail to maintain them or make sure they fit properly, rendering them ineffective.
“Even in most of our boating fatalities, there was a life vest on board the boat, it just wasn’t being worn,” Weatherington said. “It’s the same story with non-fatal boating accidents.”
According to the report, out of the 204 people involved in last year’s boating accidents, only 32 percent were wearing a life jacket at the time of the accident.
“Eighteen percent were required by law to wear one.,” Weatherington added. “So that means only 14 percent of boaters who were in an accident were voluntarily wearing their life vest. We have to do better.”
Boaters who were operating the vessel during the time of the accident did not fit any sort of mold in regard to age or boating experience, either. This is a common trend, and as with most years there were just as many operators with more than 500 hours of on-the-water experience involved in accidents as there were people who less than 20 hours of experience. Operator inattention was responsible for more accidents than inexperience, and the average age of operators involved in accidents was 44 years old.
“I’m very happy that we saw a decrease in hunting accidents and fatalities, but we need more people, especially experienced boaters, to take the time to attend a boating safety course in Arkansas,” Weatherington said. “More than 66 percent of boaters in last year’s accidents did not have boating education, and I really feel like if some of these people had attended the education course they may have avoided the accident they were involved in.”