Boating is both an exhilarating and dangerous hobby. Before you kick back on your next cruise, click here to learn more about your risks—they may surprise you.

Drowning and Other Boat Accident Risks

Sailboat on open waterWhether you’re a fisherman, kayaker, or sailor, the waters in and around Washington are wonderful to explore, but can also be extremely dangerous—especially as the temperatures begin to fall. In fact, the latest statistics show the following:

  • According to the Washington State Park Boating Program, 108 boating accidents occurred in inland (lakes and rivers) waterways in 2015 alone.
  • The U.S. Coast Guard estimated that there were over 4,000 recreational boating accidents (626 fatal) in the U.S. for the same year.
  • The Washington State Injury and Violence Prevention Guide affirms that Washington State has the highest number of registered boats in the nation; it also has one of the highest rates of unintentional drownings in the country.

The risk for an accident is only part of the problem for boaters. The real concern is what may happen if an accident causes their boat to sink or passengers to fall overboard.

Dangers of Falling into the Water

Depending on the circumstance of the accident, a boat collision can very easily cause a passenger to fall or sink into the water. Unfortunately, in these situations, even if the victim can swim, he faces a variety of life-threatening risks. These include:

  • Lacerations and internal bleeding. If you’re thrown from the boat, either by collision forces, boat speed, or by tripping and falling, you run the risk of bodily harm. When you fall, you have the potential to skip across the water, scrape the side of the boat, fall into the propeller, or grate on debris, all of which can result in painful abrasions or internal injuries. 
  • Brain damage. Falling from a vessel into the water can result in brain trauma in several ways. Your head could strike the boat or water at an incredible force or the effects of drowning can cause asphyxiation, leading to hypoxia (lack of oxygen to the brain). This lack of oxygen can cause brain cells to suffocate and die. The longer you go without air, the more brain cells die, and the higher the risk for brain damage.
  • Immersion syndrome. The waters off the coast of Washington can plummet to temperatures as low as 40 degrees, and although inland waters tend to be a little warmer, in the winter months they too can become frigid. During a collision, if you fall into waters that are below 70 degrees you could develop immersion syndrome. This condition occurs as a result of your body becoming shocked by the change in temperature. This shock can lead to cardiac arrhythmias and constriction of the cardiac muscles.
  • Hypothermia (Stage I). Water can extract heat from the body 25 times faster than cold air. Exertion, caused by swimming or thrashing, can cause body heat to be lost even faster. If your core temperature drops to 95 degrees, you’ll begin to feel the effects of stage one hypothermia. Symptoms may include shivering, fatigue, nausea, and numbness in the extremities.
  • Hypothermia (Stage II). If your core temperature drops to between 94.9 to 91 degrees, you’ll begin to feel the effects of stage two hypothermia. These symptoms include elevated confusion, intense shivering, loss of color in the lips, ears, fingers, and toes, and loss of muscle control.
  • Hypothermia (Stage III). When your core temperature drops below 89.6 degrees, you’ll experience the effects of stage three hypothermia. These dangerous symptoms may include loss of consciousness (which can lead to drowning if still in the water), irrational or incoherent thoughts, complete loss of feeling (shivering stops) and motor function. If not immediately treated by raising your core temperature into the 90s, you could suffer cardiac arrest.
  • Drowning or late/secondary drowning. Any boating accident could potentially place you in the water for minutes to hours on end. Even if you’re a good swimmer, external injuries, fatigue, and fear can affect your abilities to stay afloat. This can lead to excessive inhalation of water and eventual drowning. If you’re lucky enough to be pulled from the water, you still face a risk of secondary drowning. Secondary (or late) drowning occurs when complications associated with water-asphyxiation leads to suffocation within 24-hours of the incident. Complications can include pneumonia (resulting from too much fluid in the lungs) or swelling in the lungs and throat (resulting from a reaction to salt or bacteria in the water).          

Boat accidents are far too common to ignore the risks. Share this article with your friends and family to ensure that they are aware of the dangers before their next maritime adventure.