In Montana, the most common types of boating accidents are capsizing, falling overboard, or collisions with another vessel or object in the water.
"There have been 130 boating fatalities in Montana in the past 20 years," said Phil Kilbreath, Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks boating law administrator. "Of these fatalities, 65% involved non-motorized vessels like kayaks, rafts and drift boats. Motorized boats, including personal watercraft and pontoon boats, account for 35% of all boating fatalities.”
Accident reports show that contributing factors include operator inattention, operator inexperience, hazardous water and excessive speed. Alcohol may be the most important contributing factor.
“Wearing a life jacket can make the difference in surviving a boating accident,” says Kilbreath. Records indicate the that 51% of the nonmotorized fatality victims were not wearing a life jacket while 73% of the motorized fatality victims failed to wear a life jacket.
FWP is responsible for enforcing Montana's boating laws. All boats must have a U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket for each person on board. A life jackets must be worn by:
- Children under 12 years of age while the boat is in motion
- Anyone operating or riding a personal watercraft (jet ski, wave runner, etc.)
- Anyone being towed by a boat including water skiers, wake boarders and tubers
The importance of life jackets cannot be underestimated. If you’re floating through whitewater, get caught in a storm, or you're not a good swimmer, wearing a lifejacket could save your life.