HOT SPRINGS — The number of people who died in boating accidents in Arkansas dropped to a five-year low last year, according to the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission’s 2023 Boating Accident Year-End Report. Only nine fatalities resulted from the 61 boating accidents compiled by Cpl. Sydney Grant, Boating Law Administrator in the AGFC’s Hot Springs office.
Although the number is the lowest it’s been since 2018, when seven fatalities were recorded, the number of accidents remained virtually unchanged from 2022.
“We had 60 boating accidents in 2022 and 61 in 2023,” Grant said. “We were just fortunate that more accidents didn’t result in more severe injuries.”
One trend that continues to hold true in the annual report is the high percentage of fatalities that were not wearing life jackets.
“Of the nine deaths, six were the result of drowning,” Grant said. “Two fatalities resulted from trauma sustained in the accident and one was attributed to an underlying medical issue. None of the fatality victims were wearing a life jacket at the time of the incident.”
Grant says of all 185 people involved in accidents last year, only 35 percent were wearing life jackets at the time of the accident. One third of those who were wearing life-jackets were required by law to wear them because they were skiing, operating a personal watercraft or were 12 years of age or younger.
Capt. Stephanie Weatherington, who has headed up the agency’s boating law administration efforts for more than a decade says the lack of life-jacket use still plagues administrators, not only in Arkansas but on a national level.
“That really is the million-dollar question,” Weatherington said. “How can we convince people to wear their life jackets? It’s the single most important piece of equipment you can carry on your boat. You’re required by law to have it onboard, so why not put it on?”