Boating Safety and the Credit Crisis

As the boating season is just around the corner (or the dock), I wish to raise awareness in boating safety.

Boating safety and the current credit crisis may seem unrelated, but recent indicators may predict a rise in boating accidents due to cut-backs forced by growing financial challenges. An article appearing in the January 29th, 2009 edition of Lloyd’s List reports that 71% of its readers expect the credit crisis to negatively affect recently improved shipping safety. Based on reactions to recessions in the past, it is expected that shipping companies will reduce crew and maintenance spending. These cuts mean less manpower, less training, and less repairs, which translate to increased safety risk.

Commercial shipping is not the only area the maritime world can expect to see affected. According to the United States Coast Guard’s (USTCG) Recreational Boating Statistics 2007, boating-related deaths dropped slightly from 2006 totals, but non-fatal injuries, accidents and damages increased. If expected trends in shipping safety translate equally into recreational boating, the current financial crisis could affect things such as boating repairs and lifejacket purchases. In 2007, 476 boating fatalities were due to drowning. Of these numbers, only 49 victims were reportedly wearing life jackets. If recreational boaters cut costs by failing to replace worn out or damaged lifejackets or increase the number of lifejackets needed on their vessels, certainly more injuries, if not fatalities, could result.

Another under-realized effect of the current economic crisis is possible increased alcohol consumption, which has the potential to affect both the commercial and recreational boating industries. It has long been known that recreational drinking and boating go hand-in-hand. With the current credit crisis putting additional financial stress on many families, it is certainly possible there will be an increase in the number of boat operators consuming alcohol and getting behind the wheel of their watercraft. This has long been a difficult challenge to police; county and state agencies have a minimal number of officers and boats, and a vast number of waterways, to patrol.

Clearly, as the credit crisis builds, the boating and shipping industries could see increased challenges to boating and shipping safety. Local, state, national, and international water safety experts, regulators, and organizations need to stress the importance of responsible water vessel maintenance and operation. Task forces need to be formed in order to undertake additional safety studies and develop legal safety recommendations, such as revoking a person’s right to operate any motor vehicle, including boats, if convicted of drunk driving. In the meantime, both recreational and commercial watercraft operators and passengers should be vigilant about water safety.          

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