Coast Guard releases recreational boating statistics

June 8, 2024

The Coast Guard has released the boating statistics for last year, and while they are somewhat encouraging, they could be better. In 2023, deaths fell by 11.3%, from 636 in 2022 to 564 in 2023. Still, that is 564 people who died while out on the water enjoying a day of fishing, water skiing, swimming or just going for a ride in a boat. Those activities should not be fatal, but they were, 564 times.

Alcohol was the leading factor in in fatal boating accidents. That should not come as a great surprise. For some reason, people who would never consider drinking and driving their car will soak up a few beers along with plenty of sunshine, then get in their boat and think nothing of it. I know some fishermen who consume quite a few beers during a trip and think they are just fine. They are not.

Operator inattention and an improper lookout ranked as the top two reasons for boating accidents. I can easily believe that. I see this every time I am on the water.

When my friend Larry Weldon and his wife Joanne had a mobile home in a park on Rehoboth Bay, we had to pass the two sand bars that attracted the partygoers on hot summer weekends as we headed to Massey’s Ditch in Larry’s boat.

The operators of the boats running to and from the sand bars were something to behold. You had to be constantly on the lookout for boats on your outboard side who might cut across your bow if they spied a friend on shore. Boats on shore might come across your bow when they decided to leave the party. Not to mention boats overtaking you from behind and ahead.

Larry would run the boat and I would act as lookout. I spent most of my time checking astern and both sides while Larry concentrated on looking ahead. We both held our breath.

We all bought our boats to have fun fishing and all sorts of family fun. However, the salesman didn’t tell us the minute you step aboard, turn the key and start the engine, you become the captain, and are responsible for the boat and everyone on board. That’s why you have insurance.

When you are operating your boat, you must pay attention to everything that’s going on around you. You should not be discussing last night’s baseball game, the hot new chick at work or anything else. You have one job: the safe operation of your boat. If you are in heavy traffic, like Indian River Inlet or the sand bars in Rehoboth Bay, appoint a lookout. Explain to the person the importance of their job. Tell them to let you know if any boats are approaching from either side or from the stern.

Drowning accounted for 75% of the deaths, with 87% of those victims not wearing PFDs. With the new PFD vests, there is no reason not to wear one when you are on the water. I do believe I am seeing more people with them on today than I ever saw wearing the bulky orange ones years ago.

Another fact that didn’t surprise me is that canoes and kayaks have a higher accident rate than other types of boats. With two sons who fish from kayaks on a regular basis, that does not give me a warm and fuzzy feeling.

Fishing report

June 1 was a turning point in the summer flounder fishery. The minimum size went from 16 inches to 17.5 inches in Delaware, Maryland and Virginia. Up until then, both private and charter boats had been catching limits of flounder. Once the larger minimum size kicked in, boat limits became a thing of the past. With 13-inch sea bass still out of range for most boats, blues and bonita became closer-to-shore targets.

The surf has become a steady supplier of bluefish on mullet. Most of the mullet is fished on mullet rigs.

Breakwater Tackle on the fishing pier at Cape Henlopen State Park reported that spot and kings are beginning to show up in decent numbers. Both will take bloodworms or Fishbites bloodworms. The same species are also showing up along the ocean and bay beaches.

For those with an adventurous spirit, big striped bass have been caught most nights from the North Jetty. SP Minnows and Storm Lures seem to be the preferred offerings.

Bottom bouncers working the Old Grounds are catching a few keeper flounder. One private boat caught four, with two over the 17.5-inch minimum size.

There are always a few surprises in store when you bottom fish at the Old Grounds. Clark Strams caught an 18-pound monkfish while fishing aboard the Miss Guided.


  • Eric Burnley is a Delaware native who has fished and hunted the state from an early age. Since 1978 he has written countless articles about hunting and fishing in Delaware and elsewhere along the Atlantic Coast. He has been the regional editor for several publications and was the founding editor of the Mid-Atlantic Fisherman magazine. Eric is the author of three books: Surf Fishing the Atlantic Coast, The Ultimate Guide to Striped Bass Fishing and Fishing Saltwater Baits. He and his wife Barbara live near Milton, Delaware. Eric can be reached at

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