COVID-19 restrictions in 2020 and 2021 have led consumers to seek safe, socially distanced family recreation in a boat, and the rising tide of buyers has taken the U.S. boating industry to new heights. historical sales. The surge in first-time boat buyers and resulting overall boating participation has led to an increase in incidents, injuries and fatalities, according to the latest data from the U.S. Coast Guard. Fortunately, these results also revealed a key solution to this problem: boater education and training.
For the second year in a row, Info-Link Technologies reported that first-time buyers of new and used boats topped the 415,000 mark, surpassing levels not seen since 2007. First-time buyers accounted for 34% of all boat purchases. boats in virtually every industry, from paddle boats to jet skis, sports boats, sailboats, cruisers and yachts.
While boating remains one of the safest forms of outdoor recreation, the latest 2020 boating statistics released by the US Coast Guard Office of Auxiliary and Boating Safety reported 5,265 incidents boating, including 767 fatalities, 3,191 injuries and more than $62 million in property damage. The fatality rate was 6.5 fatalities per 100,000 recreational craft registered, an increase of 25% from 2019. The number of incidents increased by 26.3% and the number of injuries increased by 24 .7% compared to 2019.
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This same report found a compelling link between boating incidents and boating safety instructions: 77% of reported fatalities occurred on boats whose operator had not received boating safety instructions. Only 12% of fatalities occurred on vessels whose operators had received a nationally approved boating safety education certificate.
So what happened to boating safety education and training during the pandemic?
Initially, access was blocked by mandates and COVID enforcement measures during the pandemic. Many leaders in boating safety education quickly turned to the issue. As a result, a new positive trend has emerged to improve the delivery of boater instruction and education. While live instruction has fully resumed, boaters now have full access to new hybrid or virtual educational instruction available via the internet.
As an example, the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary’s Recreational Boating Safety Programs first launched live virtual instructor-led courses in spring 2020 in direct response to the pandemic. It now offers a mix of live and virtual training options, which education director David Fuller says is now “the new normal” going forward.
The National Association of State Boating Law Administrators (NASBLA) develops public policy for boating safety, representing boating authorities in all 56 U.S. states and territories. It provides resources and training, including educational standards, while working through a national network involving thousands of educators, law enforcement officers and volunteers. In April 2020, NASBLA granted states permission to deliver education through virtual means, which was extended through 2022. This will likely become a permanent option, as 31 states now offer virtual education alternatives.
Access to boater education and instruction has never been more critical – or easier – than it is today. While a simple internet search will yield dozens of boating safety and education providers, the Water Sports Foundation’s National Boating Safety Resource Center offers a list of top providers and courses available here: https://www.watersportsfoundation.com/media/boating-safety-education/.
As we head into the busy summer of 2022, boating safety advocates strongly urge new boaters to utilize the many outstanding educational resources available to them. Investing in live or virtual boater education not only allows boaters to learn more about their boat, its operations, boating rules, safety and etiquette, but also creates a greater sense of confidence at the helm. Boating safety and education contribute to a better overall boating experience, while making waterways safer for all to enjoy.
Wanda Kenton Smith is a boating safety advocate, marine industry leader and president of Kenton Smith Marketing.