A fatal Wisconsin boating accident | Studinski Law, LLC
May 20, 2022

What Is the Leading Cause of Death in Boating Accidents?

With more than 10,000 boat registrations for every 100,000 people, Wisconsin ranks third in the nation for total boating registrations. Along with the warmer weather of spring, local boaters eagerly return to the Badger State’s more than 15,000 lakes and 84,000 miles of river. 

Unfortunately, serious boating wrecks are not uncommon, and every year, individuals are severely injured or lose their lives on the water. If someone’s else reckless or careless boating behavior resulted in injury or death, the at-fault party can–and should–be held accountable.

The boating accident lawyers at Studinski Law, LLC have helped clients throughout Wisconsin for decades. We understand the challenges faced by boating accident victims and their families, and we are dedicated to helping our clients move forward after a catastrophic event.

Drowning Is the Leading Cause of Death in Boating Accidents

In its 2020 Recreational Boating Statistics Report, the United States Coast Guard reported that drowning was responsible for death in 79 percent of all boating fatalities. Of those who drowned, 86 percent were not wearing life jackets.

In its 2021 Wisconsin Boating Fatal Accident Summary, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) cited 25 fatal boating accidents in 2021, 17 of which were attributed to drowning.  Of those 25 deaths, only three victims were reported to have been wearing life jackets, one of whom drown (the other two suffered collision-related injuries).

What are the Leading Factors in Fatal Boating Accidents?

A variety of factors can contribute to a serious boat wreck. Some of the most common factors that lead to fatal boating accidents include:


In cases where the contributing factor was known, alcohol was listed as the primary factor in 23 percent of national boating deaths, according to the U.S. Coast Guard. This makes alcohol use the number one known contributing factor in fatal boating accidents. 

In Wisconsin–like every state–it is illegal to operate a boat while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. All boats, from large ships to rowboats and canoes, are subject to Boating Under the Influence (BUI) laws. 

Under Wisconsin Statutes 30.681 and 30.80(6)(a), individuals charged with intoxicated boating face the following consequences:

  • First offense: Fines up to $300
  • Second offense: Fines up to $1,000 and up to six months in jail
  • Third offense: Fines up to $2,000 and possibly one year in prison

Although a BUI does not affect your ability to drive a car (like it does in some states), offenders must comply with court-ordered alcohol and drug assessments and complete boating safety courses.

Drugs and alcohol impair a boater’s coordination, judgment, reaction time, balance, and more. It is crucial for every boater to take the dangers of drinking and boating seriously.

Failure to Wear a Life Jacket

In addition to staying sober, the correct, consistent use of a life jacket, or personal floatation device (PFD), is the most important safety step you can take when on the water. Many drowning victims in boating accidents know how to swim but are often injured or unconscious in the water.

Wisconsin law mandates that all water vessels, including canoes, kayaks, motorboats, and stand-up paddleboards, must have life jackets on board for every person on the vessel. Additionally, individuals on jet skis or other personal watercraft are required to wear life vests. 

What Type of Accident Causes the Most Boating Deaths?

Some of the most common types of fatal boating accidents include:


A number of things can cause a boat to capsize, such as strong waves, powerful winds, or collisions with other objects or vessels.

Colliding with a Fixed Object

This type of accident occurs any time a boat crashes into a fixed object, either above or below the water’s surface.

Colliding with Another Vessel

These types of accidents occur when two or more vessels collide with one another. Operator inattention and faulty maintenance frequently play a role in vessel collisions.

Falling Overboard

One of the most common causes of fatal boating accidents is falling overboard. Deaths related to these types of accidents often involve individuals who are not wearing a PFD when they accidentally fall off a vessel.

Departing the Vessel

This refers to situations in which a passenger gets off a boat voluntarily, by his or her own will. Rather than falling off a boat, these types of accidents involve situations such as jumping or diving into the water. Departing a vessel is especially hazardous for people under the influence of alcohol or drugs.


When water fills a vessel, whether due to a collision or intense weather conditions, everyone on board is at risk of drowning. Accident victims who are intoxicated, poor swimmers, or not wearing a life vest are at particular risk.

Contact a Wisconsin Boating Accident Lawyer for Free

If a loved one died in a boating accident as the result of negligence, you may be able to pursue damages for your considerable loss. In a wrongful death claim, family members can seek compensation for lost companionship, funeral costs, medical bills, lost financial contributions, and more. The experienced attorneys at Studinski Law, LLC can help you pursue the justice you deserve.

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Contact our office online or at (715) 343-2850 for a free initial consultation. Our boating accident lawyers welcome clients from Marshfield, Plover, and all areas of Wisconsin.

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