Nine deaths resulted from 61 boating accidents in 2023, according to the report by Cpl. Sidney Grant, director of boating law in the Hot Springs office of the Game and Fish Commission.
“Although the number is the lowest since 2018, when seven deaths were recorded, the number of incidents has remained almost unchanged since 2022,” the committee said in a press release accompanying the report.
According to the report, Greers Ferry Lake and the White River had the highest number of accidents, with eight accidents each. Lake Hamilton and Beaver Lake tied for the second-most incidents, six, while Lake Ouachita tied with Lake Norfork for the third-most, five.
The largest number of accidents, 21, involved operators between the ages of 41 and 50. Operator negligence was cited as the primary cause of the accidents in 18 of those reported. The largest number of accidents, 14, occurred in July, followed by June 10 and August 8.
Most of the incidents, 14, occurred on Saturday, followed by Sunday the 12th and Monday the 10th.
“We had 60 boating accidents in 2022 and 61 in 2023,” Grant said in the release. “We were fortunate that no further incidents resulted in serious injuries.”
“One trend that remains true in the annual report is the high percentage of deaths who were not wearing life jackets,” the statement said.
“Of the nine deaths, six were the result of drowning,” Grant said. “Two deaths resulted from trauma sustained in the accident and one was attributed to an underlying medical problem. Neither victim was wearing a life jacket at the time of the accident.”
Of the 185 people involved in accidents last year, only 35 percent were wearing life jackets at the time of the accident, Grant said. One-third of those who were wearing life jackets were required by law to wear them because they were skiing, operating a personal watercraft, or were 12 years of age or younger.
Capt. Stephanie Wetherington, who has headed the agency’s boating law enforcement efforts for more than a decade, said the lack of use of life jackets “continues to plague officials,” the release said, not just in Arkansas but nationally.
“This is really the million-dollar question,” Witherington said in the statement. “How can we convince people to wear life jackets? It’s the most important piece of equipment you can have on your boat. You’re required by law to have it on the boat, so why not wear it?”
Grant said the main causes of accidents are operator inattention and inexperience, noting that the measure for determining inexperience is based on the operator’s use of the vessel they were on at the time of the accident.
“For example, if you’ve operated boats your whole life but have only been on a particular boat or jet ski for a few hours of operating time, that’s the data we collect,” Grant said. “When someone has been operating a bass boat for years, it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re going to be qualified with a tiller steer boat or even an unfamiliar steer boat.”
The time of day when most accidents occurred also coincides with operator inattention statistics. The highest percentage of accidents occurred between 3 and 5 p.m
“This is the time when people start to let their guard down and stop paying attention to their surroundings,” Grant said. “Many of them have been on the water for a few hours and are starting to tire; it only takes a second or two to make a mistake that can cause a boating accident.”
Grant also noted that 75% of operators involved in accidents received no educational boating training before going out on the water. Boating education is mandatory for anyone of legal age to operate a motorboat or sailboat born after 1985.
“We still have a lot of people born before Jan. 1, 1986, who haven’t received boating education because it’s not required,” Grant said. “It only takes one day and is free if you go to an in-person class. You can also do it online at home for a small fee; there’s really no excuse not to attend.”
The statement said that in all the accidents that resulted in deaths, the operators did not have any known training in boating education.
The full report and instructions on how to sign up for a boating class are available at tinyurl.com/yc6tayxb.