Where Are Boaters Most at Risk in California Waterways?

California boasts a stunning coastline, serene lakes, and winding waterways, making it a boater’s paradise. Are you one of the state’s 4 million recreational boaters that regularly seek out these irresistible natural assets? Then, it also pays to be aware of the potential risks each body of water may bring and which waterways typically see a high number of boating accidents.

Last spring and summer, for instance, unprecedented volumes of snow melt resulted in treacherous conditions in rivers up and down California’s Central Valley, ultimately claiming the lives of 23 people who were swept away by the violent currents.

Comparing California Boating Accidents to Other States

When it comes to boating, the most recent figures from the U.S. Coast Guard’s 2022 Recreational Boating Statistics show accidents in California are notably high. In 2022, the state reported 387 boating accidents, which is a significant portion (6.8%) of the 4,040 total accidents reported nationwide. This places California in a similar category as states like Florida and Texas, which also have high numbers of boating incidents.

For perspective, the Coast Guard report shows Florida registered 712 accidents, resulting in 345 deaths and 448 injuries, while Texas had 311 accidents with 134 deaths and 177 injuries. These numbers highlight the widespread issue of boating safety across the country.

In the news

This year, two of the boating accidents in California that have made the news include:

  • In February, a Long Beach fire department official told the Los Angeles Times that 19 people onboard a 40-foot sailboat were “really lucky” to have made it out alive. The “ill-advised ocean outing” ended when heavy winds snapped the mast, sending the boat crashing into the rocky breakwater off Long Beach. After a difficult rescue mission, one passenger was sent to the hospital while the rest escaped unharmed.
  • In March, a solo boating accident in the Mokelumne River in San Joaquin County claimed the lives of two adults. A minor was able to make it safely. Authorities are investigating exactly what happened.

Most Dangerous Waterways

Boaters in California should be aware of the specific risks associated with different water bodies in the state. According to the latest data from the California State Parks Division of Boating and Waterways (DBW), certain areas are significantly more hazardous than others. Here’s a breakdown of the 2019 statistics for boating accidents, injuries, and fatalities across various California waterways:

  • Northern Lakes: 135 accidents, 77 injuries, 18 fatalities
  • Southern Coast: 160 accidents, 53 injuries, 9 fatalities
  • Southern Lakes: 33 accidents, 24 injuries, 7 fatalities
  • Northern Rivers: 41 accidents, 21 injuries, 4 fatalities
  • Delta: 29 accidents, 26 injuries, 1 fatality
  • San Francisco Bay Area: 15 accidents, 6 injuries, 0 fatalities
  • Colorado River: 10 accidents, 2 injuries, 0 fatalities

The popularity of the Northern Lakes for recreational activities and the Southern Coast’s busy waters and heavy boat traffic likely contribute to the high accident rates.

What are the most common contributing factors to boating accidents?

A closer look at the Coast Guard’s 2022 Recreational Boating Statistics reveals the leading causes of boating accidents include:

  • Operator Inattention: 602 accidents, 45 deaths, 308 injuries
  • Operator Inexperience: 464 accidents, 69 deaths, 249 injuries
  • Excessive Speed: 320 accidents, 35 deaths, 288 injuries
  • Improper Lookout: 387 accidents, 22 deaths, 234 injuries
  • Alcohol Use: 215 accidents, 88 deaths, 148 injuries

Do you have a Boater Card?

All boat operators in California 60 years of age or younger are as of Jan. 1, 2024, mandated to carry a Boater Card issued by DBW unless they meet certain exemptions. (Note: Starting Jan. 1, 2025, all operators, regardless of age, will have to carry the card).

Under California state law, every child under 13 years of age must also wear a U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket while the boat is underway. This ensures they have immediate flotation assistance in case of an emergency.

Beyond life jackets, all vessels are required to display navigation lights between sunset and sunrise and during times of restricted visibility, such as fog or heavy rain. These lights help other boaters identify your position and avoid collisions.

Steps to Staying Safe on the Water

BoatUS Foundation recommends these steps (and more) to help reduce the risk of boating accidents:

  1. Education and Training: Ensure that all operators have adequate training and understand the rules of the water. Operator inexperience is a significant factor in many accidents.
  2. Avoid Alcohol: Just as with driving a car, alcohol impairs judgment and reaction times, increasing the risk of accidents.
  3. Proper Lookout: Always maintain a proper lookout and be aware of your surroundings to avoid collisions.
  4. Speed Management: Adhere to speed limits and adjust your speed according to the water conditions and traffic.
  5. Safety Equipment: Ensure that all necessary safety equipment is on board and easily accessible. This includes life jackets, fire extinguishers, and signaling devices.

Boating accidents are a serious concern in California, with certain areas proving to be particularly hazardous. By understanding the primary causes and taking proactive steps to mitigate these risks, we can help make California’s waterways safer for everyone.

Contact Penney & Associates

If you or a loved one has been involved in a boating accident, seek legal advice to understand your rights and options. The experienced team at Penney & Associates specializes in personal injury cases, including boating accidents. Contact us today for a free consultation to discuss your case and ensure you receive the compensation you deserve.

Read More
What Sets the Best Personal Injury Law Firms Apart?
10 Common Accidents in the Summer
Personal Injury Statistics: What Three Studies Reveal About California

* This blog is not meant to dispense legal advice and is not a comprehensive review of the facts, the law, this topic or cases related to the topic. For a full review of our disclaimer and policies, please click here.

A compilation of potential hazards and accidents during the summer season

What Are 10 Common Accidents in the Summer?

Summertime brings a sense of joy and adventure as we embrace the warm weather and engage in various outdoor activities. Along with the fun, there are potential risks and accidents...
Image of cruise ship railing with a life preserver.

Cruise Line Lawsuit: Family Says Deceased Grandfather Treated Callously

A recently filed lawsuit is putting the spotlight on the cruise line industry. In late April, news broke that Celebrity Cruises had stored a deceased passenger inside the ship’s drink...
Do's and don'ts of filing a boating accident claim

How To Prepare A Boating Accident Claim: The Do’s And Don’ts

California’s four million boaters have many options to hit the water. Over 1,100 miles of coast, hundreds of navigable rivers, and lakes have made Golden State a top spot for...