The Top Five Reasons Boating Accidents Happen in Colorado

Jon Topolewski
By: Jon Topolewski
PublishedMay 3, 2024
4 minute read

Hitting the water on your vessel of choice is a favorite pastime for many Coloradans looking forward to a peaceful day on the water. Yet there’s nothing more traumatic than you or a loved one being injured in a boating accident.

It’s even more frustrating knowing that most of these incidents are caused by human actions or inactions. By reviewing the top five reasons that boating accidents happen on Colorado lakes, rivers, and reservoirs, together we can help keep our state’s beloved waterways safe.

By reviewing the top five reasons that boating accidents happen on Colorado lakes, rivers, and reservoirs, together we can help keep our state’s beloved waterways safe.

What is Considered a “Boating Accident”?

Colorado Parks & Wildlife (CPW), the state’s regulating body for boater safety, considers a boating accident to have taken place if one of the following events has happened as a consequence:

  • Damage to or by the vessel or its equipment exceeds $2,000, or the vessel is totaled 
  • Someone suffers an injury requiring more than basic first aid
  • Someone has died as a result of an accident
  • Someone has disappeared from onboard in a way that indicates possible death or injury

Boat accidents may include, but are not limited to the following events:

  • Capsizing
  • Collision
  • Flooding
  • Fire
  • Explosion

How Often Do Boating Accidents Happen in Colorado?

I know that when people think of Colorado, they think of mountains and high desert. But beyond the peaks and valleys are many lakes and reservoirs perfect for water enthusiasts to explore. 

So, unfortunately, boating accidents do occur more often than you might think. 

In 2023, the nonprofit American Whitewater reported a more than 200% increase in safety reports compared to the previous year, which is a startling spike. It’s even more troubling when the number of accidents that resulted in fatalities is taken into account. 

Recreational Boating Statistics compiled by the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) from 2022 indicate that capsizing is more common than other types of accidents.

In 2022, boating accidents claimed the lives of 14 people in Colorado. Our state has the worst fatality rate among the lower 48 states at 19.5, according to recent statistics. 

With that said, let’s dive into how the five leading causes of boating accidents happen nationally.

*The Coast Guard calculates the fatality rate using the number of deaths and the number of registered recreational vessels in each state. The Coast Guard calculates a fatality rate expressed as the number of deaths per 100,000 registered recreational vessels. It’s important to note that the fatality rate may include deaths that occurred on boats that were not registered or registered in another state.  

The Five Leading Causes of Boating Accidents 

5. Machinery Failure

Engine failure is by far the most common type of machinery failure that leads to boating accidents. That’s again according to the USCG’s Recreational Boating Statistics from 2022. Of the more than 150 accidents due to boat engine failure in the U.S., a dozen people died and dozens more were injured. 

Along with engine failure, boaters also experienced steering system failures that resulted in almost a dozen injuries and one death. Whether it be engine, steering, electrical, or otherwise, machinery failure is entirely preventable with regular maintenance. 

Before heading out on the water, Coloradans should take a look at the CPW boater basic safety items checklist on page 13. Of course, the first item on the list is that the vessel must be in good condition.

4. Excessive Speed

Feeling the need for speed is the fourth most common cause of boating accidents. Despite CPW having a maximum speed limit for boats on the water, not all boaters comply with this regulation. In 2022 alone, the USCG listed “excessive speed” as the leading cause of almost 400 accidents on the water.

Colorado boat accident statistics indicate that Coloradans also like to go fast on the water. But accidents logged by the USCG show that more often than not, Coloradans involved in boating accidents are either ejected from their vessel, fall overboard, or run into a skiing mishap. 

Sure, it can be difficult to judge your speed on a boat compared to being on land, where there are fixed objects that can help give you a sense of how fast you’re moving. But that doesn’t change the fact that excessive speed accidents accounted for almost 300 injuries and over 30 deaths in the U.S. Use the boat speedometers and follow speed limits.

3. Improper Lookout

Not keeping an eye out for other boats or people while operating a boat isn’t just selfish – it can have dangerous consequences for everyone around you. “Improper lookout” is the third-most frequent cause of boat-related accidents. In 2022, the USCG reported over 200 injuries related to improper lookout.

This seems like an easy fix. If you can’t perceive danger because you’re unable to focus on navigation and lookout duties simultaneously, you shouldn’t be operating a vessel by yourself. You at least need someone out there with you who agrees to keep watch. Being inattentive is no excuse for causing a potentially fatal accident.

2. Operator Inexperience

Unlike motor vehicles, which require proper licensing, boating doesn’t require the same regulations. This is a shame, since operator inexperience is the second most frequent reason boating accidents occur. 

In 2022, the USCG counted well over 400 accidents across the country caused by someone driving a boat who probably shouldn’t have been. This led to hundreds of injuries and more than 60 deaths nationally. 

While statistics specific to Colorado don’t necessarily name inexperience as the culprit for boating-related injuries, the majority of accidents that do take place here are the result of human error. CPW knows this and has an official boating safety course that’s available for anyone to take. 

1. Operator Inattention

Sadly, the number one cause of boating accidents in Colorado is boat operators simply not paying attention. Despite regulations that prohibit operating a vessel carelessly being enforced by the CPW, operator inattention causes more accidents on the water each year than any other situation boaters run into. 

According to the U.S. Coast Guard, approximately 600 accidents occurred due to operator inattention. In 2022, these accidents resulted in over 300 injuries and nearly 50 deaths on the national scale. 

Even the most experienced boaters can become complacent, so I can’t stress enough how important it is to remain vigilant while on the water. 

Injured in a Boating Accident? Consult a Personal Injury Attorney

If you or a loved one was injured in a boating accident, talk to our personal injury attorneys about securing compensation for your current and future needs. Call us at 303-688-0944 to start your case assessment now. 

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