What Are the Leading Causes of Fatal Boating Accidents? 

In 2022, the U.S. Coast Guard reported 4,040 recreational boating accidents that caused 2,222 injuries and 636 deaths. 

While the fatality rate decreased by 1.8% and the number of deaths dropped by 3.3% from 2021, no one should’ve lost their lives. Most of these accidents were entirely preventable, resulting from negligent or reckless behavior.

So, what causes most fatal boating accidents, and how can they be avoided? 

The Main Causes of Deadly Boat Accidents in the U.S.

In 2022, 39% of boating accidents involved a collision with a recreational vessel or fixed object. However, these accidents only caused 15% of the overall fatalities. By contrast, falls overboard accounted for 6% of the total accidents but 28% of deaths.


  • Capsizing led to 19% of deaths. 
  • Flooding and grounding caused nearly 14% of all fatalities. 
  • 15% of deaths were caused by someone departing or being ejected from the vessel.

The most common causes of death were listed as drowning or trauma.

Below we discuss the main contributing factors that led to these deadly crashes.

Operator Error – 306 Fatalities

According to the U.S. Coast Guard’s 2022 data, 48% of fatal boating accidents resulted due to operator error or negligence, including: 

  • Drug or alcohol use (94 deaths)
  • Operator inexperience (69 deaths)
  • Operator inattention (45 deaths) 
  • Excessive speed (35 deaths)
  • Violations of navigation rules (26 deaths)
  • Improper lookout (22 deaths)
  • Sharp turns (9 deaths)
  • Inadequate navigation lights (3 deaths)

Boating under the influence of drugs or alcohol was a contributing factor in nearly 15% of deadly collisions. That means 94 fatalities could have been avoided if the operator wasn’t impaired. 

Environmental Factors – 100 Fatalities

Some boating accidents aren’t directly linked to careless actions or behaviors. 

For example, in 2022, nearly 16% of fatal collisions involved: 

  • Hazardous waters (48 deaths)
  • Weather conditions (44 deaths)
  • Strong wake and waves (5 deaths)
  • A dam or lock (3 deaths)

Congested waters caused several accidents but no deaths in 2022.

Loading of Passengers or Gear – 59 Fatalities

The next category of factors leading to boating fatalities was the loading of passengers or gear, such as: 

  • Improper loading (26 deaths)
  • Overloading (19 deaths)
  • Occupants on the bow, gunwale, or transom (10 deaths)
  • Improper anchoring (four deaths)

These factors accounted for around 9% of the country’s fatal boat crashes.

Boat or Equipment Failure – 25 Fatalities

The failure of a boat component or equipment led to 25 deaths in 2022, as follows: 

  • Machinery failure (13 deaths)
  • Hull failure (6 deaths)
  • Equipment failure (6 deaths)

This category made up about 4% of the nation’s fatal boat accidents.

Other Factors Leading to Fatal Boat Crashes – 146 Fatalities

Miscellaneous situations that led to boating fatalities in 2022 included: 

  • A sudden medical condition (10 deaths) 
  • Ignition of vapor or fuel (2 deaths) 

The remaining 134 deaths were either listed as “other” or their causes were unknown. 

Who Can Be Liable for a Fatal Boating Accident in Missouri?

Under Missouri law, anyone who contributes to an accident can be held liable for the resulting damages. That means multiple parties may share liability for a Missouri boating accident. 

The following parties could be named as defendants in a boat accident case:

  • Boat operator
  • Passengers on the vessel
  • Boat owner
  • Manufacturer of defective boating equipment or components
  • Government entity
  • Boat rental company
  • Crew member
  • Employer of a negligent employee

Sometimes, liability may not be immediately apparent. An investigation may be required to identify the responsible party. A boating accident attorney will determine who is financially accountable and gather the necessary evidence to prove it. 

What Compensation Can I Receive If I Lost a Family Member in a Fatal Boat Accident in Missouri? 

After a fatal boating accident, you may be able to file a wrongful death claim against the at-fault party. This is a civil lawsuit that holds the responsible person financially liable for your losses. It’s separate from any criminal proceeding that may be filed by the state. 

In a Missouri wrongful death case, you may be entitled to the following damages: 

  • Funeral and burial expenses 
  • Medical expenses if your loved one received treatment before they died
  • The loss of financial support due to the death of your family member
  • Loss of consortium
  • The value of lost companionship, services, guidance, and support
  • Pain and suffering your loved one experienced between the injury and death (if applicable)

An attorney can help you pursue compensation for the full value of damages available under state law.

How Long Do I Have to File a Wrongful Death Claim in Missouri?

The statute of limitations to file a wrongful death lawsuit in Missouri is three years. You typically have three years from the date of your loved one’s death to take legal action. 

There may be exceptions, so it’s always best to speak with an experienced attorney. If you miss the deadline that applies to your case, you’ll lose your right to compensation under Missouri law.

Contact a St. Louis Personal Injury Lawyer If You Lost a Loved One in a Fatal Boating Accident

Boating is a great way to enjoy the outdoors and pass the time. However, things can change in the blink of an eye when negligence, environmental factors, or manufacturing defects cause accidents. 

If you’ve lost a family member in a fatal boat accident in St. Louis, MO, contact an attorney for guidance. You may be entitled to compensation for your losses. A St. Louis boat accident lawyer can help you seek justice.  

St. Louis Office
1430 Washington Ave Suite #226 St. Louis, MO 63103
(314) 461-1805

Kansas City Office
1509 NE Parvin Rd, Suite A., Kansas City, MO 64116
(816) 408-3448

Or if you would prefer to reach out to us online, please visit our contact us page.