About 22 million Americans — 7.4 percent of the population — enjoy paddling. Fatalities encountered by stand-up paddle boarders has increased and authorities say it’s because the victims did not use a life jacket. During 2017 there were 138 paddle boarder drownings and 107 injuries. Kayaking, Stand Up Paddle boarding and kayak fishing have grown dramatically. Between 90,000 and 105,000 canoes and 350,000 kayaks are sold annually, according to industry figures.
However, all of this growth in paddle sports has a dark side. Unlike power boats, with the growth in paddle sports, the number of fatalities has gone up. In the most recent reporting year, 2015, 29% of boating deaths were paddle craft related; in 2016, fatalities climbed even higher. Current efforts to reach the paddling public have fallen dramatically short. The Coast Guard Auxiliary Strategic Plan for 2017 focuses Auxiliary efforts on addressing the problem by expanding outreach to the paddle craft community.
Jim Emmons, outreach director for the Water Sports Industry Foundation, based in Orlando, Florida, said people buy paddleboards and do not realize the risks. “People come into the big box stores, the club stores like Costco, in what we call a ‘no service environment,'” he said. “They’ve got a party next weekend, they don’t know anything about boating, don’t know anything about paddling.” At such stores, there likely will not be signs warning customers that the Coast Guard requires paddleboard users to carry a life jacket. Emmons said he’s sending letters to executives of major chain stores asking them to put up some kind of warning. “It could something as simple as putting on the bottom of the receipt about using a life jacket,” he said.
In 2017, the Coast Guard records reflect that there were 4,291 accidents that involved 658 deaths, 2,629 injuries and approximately $46 million dollars of damage to property as a result of recreational boating accidents. The fatality rate was 5.5 deaths per 100,000 registered recreational vessels. This rate represents a 6.8% decrease from the 2016 fatality rate of 5.9 deaths per 100,000 registered recreational vessels. Where cause of death was known, 76% of fatal boating accident victims drowned. Of those drowning victims with reported life jacket usage, 84.5% were not wearing a life jacket. Where vessel length was known, eight out of every ten boaters who drowned were using vessels less than 21 feet in length.
Division 15 – Northern Lakes