In South Carolina, we are blessed with approximately 30,000 miles of rivers, 2,900 miles of coastline, and roughly 450,000 acres of lakes to enjoy. But the same waters that are so pleasurable for us to use can also become the locations of tragic accidents.
Nationally, 3.3 percent of all recreational boating deaths occurred in South Carolina during 2016. The percentage might sound low, but we are tied with North Carolina for the sixth-highest percentage of total boating fatalities in the nation. From 2012 through 2016, 595 boating accidents took place in SC, with 87 fatalities the result. Both the number of boating accidents and the number of deaths rose significantly from the year 2015 to 2016.
Boating Statistics and SC Law
In the U.S. during 2016, recreational boating fatalities took the lives of 701 people, a 12 percent increase over the previous year. The total number of boating accidents, 4,463, showed a 7.3 percent increase, and the total number of boating injuries, 2,903, represented an 11.1 percent increase.
Practically all boating deaths are preventable. For example, in 2016:
- Over four-fifths (83 percent) of drowning victims were not wearing a life jacket.
- Four out of five boating deaths occurred because of drowning.
- Two-thirds of those who drowned were considered good swimmers.
- 77 percent of deaths took place on boats where the operator had received no safety instruction.
- Drinking alcohol was the leading contributing factor to fatal boating accidents. BUI (boating under the influence) was responsible for 15 percent of deaths.
It is legal to consume alcohol while on the water in SC, but the law prohibits you from operating a vessel while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. If caught, you will be fined, possibly do jail time, and may have your boating privileges suspended.
Likewise, all vessels, even those being towed, must have on board at least one U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket or personal flotation device (PFD) for each person. Approved types include Type I, II, III, or V PFD. Children under 12 are required to wear a jacket or device at all times while they are aboard.
Life jackets and PFDs save lives, as long as you use them.
Suggestions for Boating Safety
The most obvious tips for avoiding a catastrophe while on the water are obtaining good safety instruction beforehand, not operating your vessel while under the influence, and keeping life jackets and PFDs close at hand (or wearing them). But we have some additional ideas for you:
- Develop a float plan, and let someone else know where you’re going.
- It might sound obvious, but—learn to swim.
- Know what to do should you have a boating emergency.
- Properly maintain your boat.
- Never overload the boat, in order to prevent capsizing.
- Follow all posted speed limits and operate your vessel with an eye to what the other person might do.
- Keep a sharp eye on the weather. Weather can change quickly out on the water. Head home if there are warning signs.
- If you are using a motorized boat, learn about the dangers of carbon monoxide while out on the water.
Do you need a refresher when it comes to South Carolina’s boating rules and regulations? You can view current SC boating laws on your computer, smartphone, or other mobile device. You can also take a course on boating safety.
A day on the water with loved ones can be a wonderful time of adventure and togetherness. But when you’re packing the sandwiches and soda, remember to bring your common sense, too. Accidents can still happen and our firm has the experience required to successfully navigate boating accident lawsuits.
Bert Louthian has been practicing law in Columbia with his father, Herb, since 1985. After receiving his Juris Doctorate from the University of South Carolina, Bert launched his legal career in his father’s firm. With 80 years of legal experience between them, Louthian Law, P.A. remains Family-Owned and Family-Focused.
Bert understands that when life goes wrong – when you or someone you love gets hurt or suffers a loss, it can feel like nothing will ever be right or fair again. He gets up and goes to work every day to prove that feeling wrong – and does everything in his power to make things right again.