The “Old Dominion” must be doing something right. Virginia’s many bays, estuaries and rivers host a quarter of a million registered watercraft in the state, especially during the summer months. Chesapeake Bay, the Potomac and other waterways provide many great destinations for a day of fishing or pleasure boating. But these waters can quickly turn dangerous when power boats or jet skis are piloted by drunk or otherwise negligent operators.
Recently released statistics reveal that 2010 was a less deadly year for Virginia boaters. The U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) recently released national statistics on boating and jet ski accidents, reporting that Virginia had 102 accidents, 14 of which involved fatalities. Those figures are down from 137 and 23 in 2009, but up from the 2008 total of 95 accidents (though that year had more fatal boat accidents at 15).
The USCG also keeps track of the cause of accidents to best understand how to educate the public about strategies for safe boating. The top five primary contributing factors of recreational boating accidents nationwide are:
- Operator inattention
- Improper lookouts
- Operator inexperience
- Excessive speed
- Alcohol use
The USCG tracks all accidents involving fatalities, disappearances of operators or passengers, injuries that require medical treatment, or vessel damage in excess of $2,000. Although intoxicated boating is fifth on the list of all reported causes, it is the number one reason behind fatal boating accidents.
Creating Safer Waters by Educating Boaters and Personal Watercraft Users
Since 2007, Virginia has enforced a mandatory boating safety education program for operators of personal watercraft (PWCs) and motorboats with at least ten horsepower. By 2016, all operators of such craft will be required to carry a boating safety education course completion card. In order to comply with the Virginia Boating Education Requirements go to BoatingBasicsOnline.com.
Starting in July of 2011, all PWC operators younger than 50 as well as boat operators under age 21 must complete a boating safety course. No one under age 14 is allowed to operate a PWC under any circumstances. Certification can be completed in a variety of ways, including a classroom setting, using home study or online. The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries provides free courses in a variety of locations around the state. To comply with Virginia’s PWC education requirements go to BoatingBasicsOnline.com.
The cornerstones of boater safety are common sense: always wear a life jacket, make sure that equipment is well maintained, and avoid drugs and alcohol. Virginia practices “zero tolerance” for alcohol consumption by boaters under 21 years of age. For others, a blood alcohol content of .08 or above means a charge of Operating Under the Influence (OUI), up to a year in jail, a fine up to $2,500 fine, loss of operator privileges and mandatory enrollment in Virginia’s Alcohol Safety Action Program.