The Oregon State Marine Board says 2023 was a safer boating year than the previous three, but the number of fatalities is still in the double digits with 14.
The highest fatality number since 1993 was in 2020, with 26. In 2021, there were 19 recreational boating fatalities, and in 2022, there were 16.
In 2023, six fatalities involved motorized boats with one boat having a double fatality, and six involved nonmotorized boats (i.e., rafts, kayaks, and a canoe) with one inflatable raft having a double fatality. Three out of the 14 victims were solo operators. Twelve victims out of the 14 were not wearing a life jacket. Of the two wearing a life jacket, one wore an inflatable that malfunctioned, and another person was pushed by the swift water into a rock strainer.
“Everyone needs to be prepared, no matter where they are boating or how long they’ve been a boater,” says Brian Paulsen, Boating Safety Program Manager for the Marine Board. “Accidents are unpredictable, so wearing a life jacket will increase your odds of survival when the unexpected happens.”
Inflatable life jackets are popular with many boaters, but Paulsen says they are not for everyone. “We investigate incidents where life jackets fail to inflate. We generally find that the owner didn’t service the life jacket properly or wasn’t armed with a CO2 cartridge.” Paulsen adds, “Inflatable life jackets are machines that must be tested and maintained. Every person using an inflatable should routinely test it to ensure it’s working correctly and approved by the United States Coast Guard.”
Fatalities occurred in all types of waters in 2023, in all types of watercraft. Two of the victims were female and 12 were male. Two of the victims succumbed to CO poisoning, eight drowned due to capsizing, one fell overboard, one slipped off rocks while trying to free their raft, one fell in between their boat and dock while exiting to tie up, and one cause was unknown.
“Before you get on the water, check to see if you have the required safety equipment, check the weather, check the tides on the coast, and always wear a life jacket. Safe boating takes time for planning and preparation,” says Paulsen.