Last year in Connecticut, there were 40 boating accidents that resulted in at least $2,000 in damage or a serious injury, according to the United States Coast Guard. Five of those incidents were fatal — including one involving Greenwich teenager Emily Fedorko, who died in a tubing accident after being hit by the propeller of the boat that had been towing her.
Fedorko’s death brought boating safety to the forefront during this year’s legislative session, as her parents encouraged the state to pass more stringent boat safety laws. In June, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy signed a bill called Emily’s Law.
The new law requires a boater to be at least 16 years old to legally tow another person, like someone on water skis. In addition, it requires those seeking a boater’s license to take a ‘safe-tow’ course starting Oct. 1.
“I think that perhaps there may be a greater level of scrutiny on our boating safety laws in the near future,” said State Rep. James Albis, co-chair of the Environment Committee.
While the effects of the new law won’t be seen until next summer, TrendCT wanted to see the frequency of serious boating accidents in the past several years. According to Coast Guard data, the number of accidents with serious injuries or more than $2,000 in damage varied from year to year, with as many as 52 in 2010 and as few as 35 in 2013.
In 2012, there were 49 such boating accidents in Connecticut, involving six deaths. The next year saw a marked increase in boat safety advocacy, and in 2013 the number dropped to 35 accidents and one death, before rising again to the 40 accidents and five deaths in 2014.
Now with the new safety law in place, legislators hope it will again reduce incidents and continue the focus on boat safety.
“At the very least, it has raised the level of consciousness that parents should have about their child’s safety when they are operating boats,” Albis said.
Not only did the Fedorkos manage to influence Connecticut law, they have established a foundation to spread the word about boat safety around the nation. They are attending boat shows and handing out boat safety information and stickers that read “Turn It Off for Emily.”
“I do think the Fedorkos are, through the foundation, making a great effort that will be very successful in raising awareness in the risks of propelling particularly, but good effort overall for safety in boating,” said State Sen. Scott Frantz, R-Greenwich, a member of the Environment Committee and co-sponsor of the bill.
Among New England states, Connecticut had the second fewest accidents per capita from 2010 to 2014. Vermont had the fewest, which may be because it does not have a saltwater coastline.
Massachusetts had the most boating casualties in New England, with an average of 56 injuries and six deaths per year between 2010 and 2014. But per capita, Massachusetts actually had the second-fewest boating incidents per resident in the region, while Rhode Island had the highest.
That said, per capita statistics may not give an accurate indication of relative boating safety, since it doesn’t account for ballooning summer populations.
In 2014, the most common type of boating accident in Connecticut and all the other New England states except Vermont was a collision with another recreational vessel, according to the Coast Guard.
The second-most common type of accident in Connecticut was flooding or swamping, but in New England as a whole it was grounding.
|Collision with fixed object||0||4||2||12||3||0||21|
|Collision with floating object||0||1||0||1||0||0||2|
|Collision with recreational vessel||8||7||11||22||13||0||61|
|Collision with submerged object||2||0||1||0||0||0||3|
|Ejected from vessel||1||1||0||3||0||0||5|
|Fall in vessel||3||4||2||0||1||0||10|
|Fire/explosion (unknown origin)||2||0||1||0||0||0||3|
|Person struck by propeller||0||0||2||0||0||1||3|
|Person struck by vessel||0||0||0||0||0||1||1|
Coastal states tend to have higher rates of boating accidents than non-coastal states. But there are some landlocked states that buck the trend, like Utah, home of the Great Salt Lake (27 accidents per million), and Idaho (26 per million).
Rhode Island had the highest per-capita rate of boating incidents in the nation at 38 accidents per million people in 2014. New Hampshire followed closely behind, as did Maine and Florida. Maine recorded the highest rate of fatalities at almost four deaths for every one million people in the state.
“There are some states in New England and others around the country that have very little safety regulations or laws,” said Frantz, the Greenwich lawmaker. “For example, in Maine you don’t have to have any qualification, and I believe it is still the case. [Maine] is a different place — I get it. Boating is more of a lifestyle there. They have the fishermen and the lobstermen. It’s a deeper part of their culture. But I think Connecticut has the right balance. It’s [rules are] not overburdensome. [The rules] are educational in nature.”