Boating Basics Online is reader-supported. When you buy via our links, we may earn a commission at no cost to you. Learn more

What are the Most Common Causes of Boat Accidents?

Written by J. Harvey / Fact checked by S. Numbers

what are the most common causes of boat accidents

News about boat accidents fill the local news. Who would have thought that mundane activities like sailing at the sea can turn into misadventures? What are the most common causes of boat accidents?

This happens due to several causes. Beside mechanical issues and bad weather conditions, most incidents are attributed to a lack of knowledge about the law or disobeying it. For instance, reported cases of boating accidents in Florida increased by 20%.

There’s more to learn about boat accidents that can cause injury and death. If you’re a boater, you have to be very particular about the causes. You can have ideas on how to be more careful and avoid committing mistakes.

What Are The Most Common Causes Of Boat Accidents


If you’re a boater, you need to expand your awareness regarding boat accidents. So, check every common or primary cause of many boating accidents in the following list.

1. Inexperienced Operator

Knowledge and adherence to boating laws are some things that can guarantee safety. In addition, the sailor should have the skills on how to properly operate and control the vessel. It may be difficult at first but improvements can be made through experience.

A boater education course is available for you to learn the rules and regulations of the waters and gain the necessary experience in handling a boat. Knowing the right things to do will keep harm as well as insurance payments away.

2. Machinery Failure

This is also the common cause of most boating accidents. It’s not the operator’s fault if there’s a failure or defect in some parts of the boat or machinery. A shortcoming may have occured during installation or have developed later on.

You may not find out sooner or later. But one thing is for sure, it causes boat accidents if not fixed in due time. Thus, regular maintenance is the ultimate solution for this predicament.

3. Running Aground

Running aground can put you in embarrassment. You can easily get over it but when it puts you in danger, it will be an unfavorable story. Aside from knowing how to properly anchor and moor, you have to keep your boat afloat.

Keep sober, slow down, and be watchful. If ever you run aground, check the passengers and then the hull first. A kedge anchor can help in some cases. At times, you may only need to move a small boat from side to side to get over from being grounded.

4. Improper Lookout

This scenario is either failing to assign a lookout or the one who’s tasked for doesn’t execute the job well. Sight and hearing are incorporated with this responsibility. If the lookout doesn’t pay enough attention, collisions will happen.

5. Bad Weather Conditions

Summer is when a number of tourists want to go boating. Even with the comfortable weather, most boat accidents occur in this season due to strong winds. The risk increases when the inexperienced operator leads the trip.

In the past, boaters could get weather updates through VHF radios or weather radios. Stereo systems also came into the picture with settings that include NOAA weather channels. Some radios from Cobra, Uniden, and Icom are the best choices.

Nowadays, you can depend on your smartphones for weather updates. It’s possible to run weather apps and radars if you’re within the tower range. The significance of a proper lookout is the same as knowing the weather condition.

Don’t leave the marina if the weather doesn’t seem good. You can check the weather forecast a day before leaving for the trip.

6. Excessive Speed

No matter how experienced the boat’s operator is, safe speed should be observed all the time. The sea can be a vast body of water but never think of it as a racing course. You’ll be able to see obstacles and hazards if you stay at a slow speed.

As expected, there’s a law that obliges boaters to remain at a safe speed. Everyone should adhere to it to prevent collisions and accidents. It’s necessary to be careful at night as the visibility is low. You can’t rely solely on your senses.

7. Not Wearing the Right Safety Gear

Some boaters don’t put much effort into loading safety equipment like PFDs and life jackets before a trip. They don’t even bother wearing one. Don’t be like these boaters. You should keep in mind that they’re lifesavers, especially when the water gets rough and the weather becomes bad.

Other safety gears that you should prepare before leaving the port are lights, horns, flares, and backup propulsion. An anchor is an overlooked item but it’s the first defense that you should have when a storm arises.

8. The Influence of Alcohol

Drunk driving is not only prohibited on the road but also on the waters. Maneuvering a boat with a BAC or blood alcohol concentration of more than 0.08 is an offense.

It’s common for people to load some beer or other alcoholic beverages onboard. But if you’re the operator, tune down the drinking as everyone’s safety is in your hands. You do not want to be in trouble with the authorities either.

9. Running Out of Gas

It’s advisable to pay attention to the maintenance needed by your boat. Calculating the necessary amount of gas for the distance that you’re going to take is also vital.

It’s fine if you run out of gas in a small body of water. A rescue team can come on time to give you a can of gas. But what if you’re in the middle of Niagara Falls or the Gulf Stream? It’s an idea that you would not want to turn into reality.

If you’re stranded and the weather is no longer amiable, you’ll be in big trouble. Some boat accidents happen because of it.

10. Reckless Actions

Having an experienced operator can’t always guarantee safety. Some people on board can commit reckless actions that result in serious consequences. Overloading passengers is also not a good idea as the boat would overturn.

This is one of the primary causes of fatal boat accidents because passengers fall overboard. Be wise in making decisions and have a good judgment before sailing.

11. Fire

Although modern vessels have double-clamped fuel lines and spark-proof mechanical systems, it’s still important to put a fire extinguisher in your boat. A dozen maritime accidents happen because of big fires.

Take time to check the bilge for any gas fumes. The rainbow color on the bilge water as well as fuel leaks and spills are not a good sign. That’s why it’s recommended to turn on the bilge blower before starting the boat’s engine.

Various Boat Accidents Or Collisions


The most collisions of a boat happen in summer because it’s the best time to have a water adventure. The causes were already mentioned and this part will show you certain accidents that happen based on the type of vessels.

1. Yacht Collisions

Yacht accidents happen mainly because there’s an inexperienced driver behind the wheel. When a yacht has a misfortune encounter, it’s typically serious because of its sheer size.

In cases where a yacht collides with a small boat, it’s the one that lays more damages and injuries to the other craft. Aside from accidents, you’ll also be liable to a criminal offense when you fail to abide by the safety boat regulations.

2. Pontoon Boat Accidents

Don’t be fooled that a pontoon is safe and all about having fun. It’s not exempt from accidents like other vessels. Don’t be too relaxed in a pontoon and ignore the proper ways of handling it.

A pontoon’s propeller can also be hazardous. Some do get drunk while onboard and they lose balance and fall into the water. You’re lucky if you’ll be saved in time. But if not, you’ll make the death count rise.

3. Rental Boat Accidents

A number of companies offer rental boat services. A lot of reports were known to the public that these vessels for temporary use have gone through boating accidents.

Before you’ll be allowed to use a certain boat, a quick demonstration of boat controls is done in order to sign a waiver. The problem is that some who rent boats are occasional operators. They’re not entirely familiar with the functions of the vessel.

As mentioned above, inexperienced operators are one of the most common causes of boat accidents. Mechanical issues are sometimes present in boats for rent. If mishaps happen, you can get compensatory damages from the rental company.

Sum It Up

You don’t have to ask ‘What are the most common causes of boat accidents?’ anymore as this article has shown you everything that you need to know. You must remember all the causes so you can associate them with your sailing preparation and routine.

Don’t be careless as you’re only exposing yourself to danger. Be attentive and always think of possible collisions and accidents.

5/5 - (2 votes)