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Many people love to spend their weekends on the lake. Whether it’s a relaxing float, a fishing trip, or some high-speed thrills, boating can please the whole family.

Unfortunately, too many people end up with their lives put in jeopardy by reckless and intoxicated pilots at the wheel of a boat.

Kaufman & Stigger, PLLC, examined some of the most recent boat accident statistics and some examples of some of the worst boating accidents in the nation over the past several decades. It’s hoped these reminders will encourage anyone who takes the helm of a boat to be extra careful with the lives of other passengers and those in other watercraft.

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2023 Report on U.S. Boating Accident Statistics

In May of 2023, the United States Coast Guard released its summary of boating accident statistics for 2023.

The report highlighted an encouraging decrease in boating accidents overall in 2022:

  • 2022 – 4,040 U.S. Boating Accidents
  • 2021 – 4,439 U.S. Boating Accidents

The number of fatalities stemming from 2022 accidents also fell slightly. The figure was down about 3% from 2021 incidents.

  • 2022 – 636 boating accident fatalities
  • 2021 – 558 boating accident fatalities


The number of boaters injured in collisions also fell:

  • 2022 – 2,222 boating accident injuries
  • 2021 – 2,641 boating accident injuries

Even with a decrease in dangerous incidents, boating accident rates are still too high to claim any sort of victory. Too many people still die in preventable accidents on rivers, lakes, and the ocean.

Observing boating laws, speed limits, and avoiding drinking and driving while steering a boat can save hundreds of lives a year. Making sure boat touring companies are following all regulations can also reduce the lives lost in these heartbreaking accidents.

Some of the Worst Boating Accidents in U.S. History

These are some of the most tragic recent boating accidents recorded in U.S. waters. Boating has claimed many lives throughout U.S. history. Even with modern safety improvements for boats and enforcement of new safety restrictions, devastating water collisions continue to occur.

Santa Cruz Island, CA Diving Boat Fire 2019

A 75-foot dive boat went up in flames as passengers slept below deck off of Santa Cruz Island near Santa Barbara. All 33 passengers and one crewmember were trapped by the fire and tragically lost their lives. Five crewmembers who were above deck when the fire started were able to escape.

The guests were enjoying a Labor Day scuba diving excursion and were sleeping below deck. The fire started at around 3:30 a.m. on September 2, 2019.

NBC News reported that because the boat burned and sank, investigators were unable to determine the exact cause of the fire. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) officials ultimately blamed the owners of the boat for failing to post a roving night watchman to alert guests to such a danger. The NTSB also cited the owners for not properly training crew members.

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Branson Duck Boat Sinks in Storm on Table Rock Lake 2018

Despite storm warnings the operators of a tourist boat company near Branson, Missouri decided to set out on Table Rock Lake with 31 people aboard. The duck boat was hit by high waves and sank on July 19, 2018.

KY3-TV reports the terrifying accident claimed 16 passengers’ lives and killed one crewmember. The tragedy claimed nine members of the same family.

Investigators believe the captain in charge of the Stretch 7 Duck Boat neglected to cancel the boat trip despite warnings of dangerous weather.

After the disaster, Missouri lawmakers helped spearhead legislation that requires additional safety measures. The laws requires duck boats to have ballast tanks and bilge pumps to prevent sinking. They must also remove canopies that make it hard for passengers to abandon ship.

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San Diego Two Migrant Boats Collide March 2023

At least eight lives were lost after two migrant smuggling boats capsized off of San Diego on March 11, 2023. USA Today reported that up to 7 people known to be on the boats were still unaccounted for after a rescue effort.

The bodies that were discovered washed up along Black Beach. Foggy conditions hampered search and rescue efforts from the air.

The Chief of the Lifeguard Division in San Diego said it was one of the worst maritime smuggling tragedies he could think of. The victims were aboard “Panga” boats. They are generally small crafts with small motors. Smugglers try to come ashore during foggy weather when visibility is low. This can make the journey even more dangerous.

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St. Johns County Florida Pleasure Boat Hits Tugboat 2009 Easter

A 22-foot boat out for a cruise on Easter Sunday on April 12, 2009 collided with a tugboat in St. Johns County. It happened in the Intracoastal Waterway near Palm Valley Bridge, north of St. Augustine.

The devastating accident killed five people and seven victims were left with serious injuries. Investigators say the tugboat was parked when the Crownline powerboat rear-ended it.

An investigation into the accident determined that most of the people on the pleasure boat were impaired by drugs or alcohol. The female driver had an obstructed view at the time of the impact and didn’t have boating experience. According to one emergency responder, the boat had been stopped by authorities in the weeks prior to the accident.

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Upstate New York Glass Bottom Boat Capsizes 2005

The sinking of the Ethan Allen glass-enclosed tour boat on Lake George claimed 20 passengers on October 2, 2005. Nine others suffered injuries.

The Ethan Allen capsized and sank in 59 feet of water with a full load of passengers near the town of Lake George. The occupants were mostly seniors in a group from Michigan and Ohio looking forward to viewing fall colors.

Popular Mechanics examined the tragic boating disaster in a revealing article. Investigators determined that after a 2,000lb roof had been added to the 40-foot craft, the boat hadn’t been rechecked for stability. The change had left the boat with a maximum safe passenger limit of 14 instead of the previous 48. The Ethan Allen carried 47 passengers on the day it sank.

The heartbreaking accident led to changes in Missouri’s boating laws and sparked calls for changes in boating safety regulations in all states.

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