The 10 most common boating accidents (and how to avoid them)

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10 causes of accidents at seaPHOTO BY RNLI/Andrew MacDonald

Anyone approaching the sea for the first time often hears those with more experience repeat, “Safety comes first.” Or at least it should be because the dangers at sea are there and sometimes they are unpredictable. But what are the most common causes of accidents? The United States Coast Guard has come up with a list of the 10 most typical and potentially dangerous boating accidents.

HERE ARE THE 10 MOST COMMON BOATING ACCIDENTS

Running out of gas: sounds trivial, but it is not. And running out of fuel may not even seem particularly risky when you are below the coast and there is good weather. But storms are also in the Mediterranean, and it is best not to be caught unprepared. How is it possible for this to happen? Perhaps you miscalculated the distance or burned more fuel than expected. Or maybe you spent too much time looking for a good place to fish and ended up running out of fish.

The best way to avoid this kind of problem is to plan. Decide before you leave where you want to go and calculate how much gas you need for the outward journey and double it for the return, all depending on the miles you have to go. If you plan to fish remember also to calculate gasoline for this activity, being careful not to use up that on the way back. If possible to this add a 10-20% fuel margin.


Running aground: after running aground on the rocks at best you remedy a visit to the shipyard to redo the bow. This is only if you are comfortable with it. If your boat is not too big you may also want to try to get it off the rocks. Be careful that your hull has no leaks because it is better to run aground than to sink!

To avoid this kind of accident, it is important to always be aware of our surroundings at sea. When in doubt, especially at night, it is always best to slow down.


Falling overboard: falling overboard can happen to even the most experienced sailors. And you don’t always end up in the water in a conscious state so always try to wear a life jacket that keeps you afloat with your face to the air.

The situation can then be really dangerous if one does not wear the famous “red lanyard” of the emergency switch that when disconnected automatically shuts down the boat. Or its electronic version that turns off the engine if the wearer falls into the water.


Sinking: Go ahead and laugh, but the most common reason is a hole in the boat. And often intentionally created while putting “DIY” hands on sea sockets. Brass fairleads for sea intakes are best, but plastic ones are cheaper and more resistant to corrosion. But plastic fittings do break if tightened too much-they just split, with no “warning” signs, such as the small leaks that should alarm us if something is wrong. Frequently check sea intakes and bilges, as well as arrange on board a selection of durable circular wooden wedges to be applied to dam the waterway.


Fire: Fortunately, thanks to technology on board and in the components, fires on board are increasingly rare, but it is always better not to risk it. What can generate a fire on board? Clearly gasoline. One should always look for fuel spills or leaks, or a slick of bilge water with the color of a rainbow.

Always check that you have fire extinguishers on board, rated for fuel or electrical fires, and that they are still charged. Have them inspected and replaced when in doubt.


Failures: The U.S. Coast Guard says the most serious accidents often result from mechanical failures and subsequent electrical problems. A faulty battery will not start a boat engine. And so Even the boat lights don’t work, so if it’s nighttime, you’re stuck and practically invisible.

For the typical cruiser, a good choice is undoubtedly AGM batteries, models in which the electrolyte (i.e., the mixture of water and sulfuric acid) is almost completely absorbed by fiberglass elements, making them safer than liquid lead batteries in the event of breakage. They are maintenance-free and produce virtually no gas spills, which are harmful to health and the bilge.


Safety equipment: too many boaters neglect safety equipment on their boat. Or even worse, on themselves. How many lives does a well-worn vest save? The U.S. Coast Guard says about half of all fatal drownings involve boaters without life jackets. How to wear “well”? A life jacket is only worthwhile if it is the right kind and the right size. Remember that if you end up in 10-degree water you only have a few minutes of movement before your muscles forfeit. And at that point you will no longer be able to keep your head above water.

Never leave the harbor without flares and lights and a spare propulsion, such as an oar. Anchors are also neglected as integral parts of safety equipment when in fact they are the first line of defense in case of failure or storm.


Ignoring the weather: it used to be complicated to find weather updates. Today, with all the technology you have on board (trivially a smartphone if there is a field or you are under the coast), getting information is much easier. Don’t forget to check before taking to the sea.


Inattention: Today, despite radar, AIS, and charting GPS, one still hears, “I didn’t see them coming.” This is a very common explanation for accidents, but it does not excuse who is at fault; on the contrary. If all the on-board instruments are not enough, all that remains is to be careful both while sailing and at anchor to always have a good view.


Alcohol: Alcohol slows reflexes and clouds judgment. More than enough to risk harm to you and others. If you must put yourself at the helm drink responsibly.


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