SUP Fatalities By The Numbers: A look at 2016 USCG Stats

Dissecting the USCG SUP Accident numbers

Good news and bad news this week on the safety front.

The bad news

Another paddler, a doctor from Toronto, died on Lake Huron over the weekend.  According to news reports, witnesses said 39-year-old Dennis Bowman fell into the water at Sauble Beach, became separated from his board and appeared to be in distress.  He was not wearing a life jacket. The witnesses went into the water to help but couldn’t readily find him.  When he was located, he had no vital signs and efforts to revive him on the beach failed.

The good news

Reports of a missing paddle boarder or swimmer in New Jersey apparently were false.  Search efforts were halted when things didn’t add up and no missing person was reported.

Another Significant bit of Good News

ABC News, at the national level, did a wonderful story on how to paddle board safely, hitting all the key points -points we in the paddle media have been preaching.  This is significant because it was a story that was carried by local ABC affiliate stations all across the country and was posted on all those social media outlets as well.  That means the people who need to hear that message the most – the average recreational consumer who may not be paying attention to the paddle community media – might have been reached in a way we could never get to them.

It’s a great and welcome contrast to the other messages we see in the mainstream media – like this one from the Daily Mail:

Read: “Paddeboarding can give even a middle aged, pretty boy like Rob Lowe a great body- just get on a board and try it. You don’t need any skills or safety gear.” (No offense meant. I love Rob Lowe, especially his role in “The West Wing.” He was apparently on a foil board in Hawaii somewhere.)

One of the points the story made is that US Coast Guard officials are expecting the death toll during paddle boarding for this year to increase over last. That number has been increasing in the last couple of years, and it stands to reason, since more and more people are buying paddleboards, not only from shops and outfitters but big box retailers, and more boards are availbe to try at recreational sites.  The more people doing it, the more likely the injury/fatality stats will go up.

2016 Numbers

2017 isn’t over, but the USCG’s report on 2016 is available, and the American Canoe and Kayak Association has a great analysis of the figures. Here’s a breakdown:

  • Number of SUP deaths in 2016: 15
  • Number of non-fatal accidents on SUPs: 5
  • Number of SUP fatalities where drowning was the official cause of death: 12 or 80%
  • Number of SUP deaths where victim was NOT wearing a PFD: 14 or 93.3%
  • 60 percent of SUP fatalities involved paddlers between age 20 and 49

Note #1: Since leashes are not required, these stats do not track leash usage.

Note #2: One of the 12 drowning victims was wearing a pfd.

Note #3: Three of the SUP-related deaths are listed as Cause Unknown.

What precipitated those 20 combined accidents? Falling off the board and/or otherwise getting ejected or “departed” from the board. In every. Single. Case.



Not Just Rentals

Last year, in the 15 SUP related deaths, only four of them were known to be on boards that were rented. Only one of the five non-fatal accidents occurred on a rented board.

Not Just SUPs

In comparison to all fatalities recorded by the USCG by vessel type, SUP deaths is a relatively low percentage – 2 percent, along with auxillary sailboats and rowboats. Open motorboats lead with 46% of the 701 recreational boating fatalities last year, followed by canoes/kayaks (22%), Pontoon boats (7%) and cabin motor boats (6%).

SUP deaths increased from 1 percent to 2 percent from 2015 to 2016.

Overall PFD Usage

Of the total 701 recreational boating deaths, 509 or 73% were from drowning. Of those drowning deaths, 404 of them were not wearing a pfd, and it’s not know if another 23 were or not.  That’s approximately 80 percent.

Interesting to note the Trauma category: 99 people died because of some sort of trauma while recreational boating, and about half of them were wearing PFDs. None of those deaths occurred on a SUP.

That’s probably enough numbers for the time being…it’s good food for thought.  These numbers would be even more interesting if we could overlay them with leash usage.

Perhaps some day.



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