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More Deaths from Sailing than Football

Published on April 4th, 2016

Providence, RI (April 4, 2016) – A new study from Rhode Island Hospital researchers based on data from the U.S. Coast Guard found that sailing in the U.S. has a higher fatality rate than football and downhill skiing.

Despite an image of carefree jaunts in sun-splashed waters, sailors experience fatalities at a higher rate than that of sports known for lightning speeds, falls and collisions. In fact, falls overboard, high winds, and operator inattention are known factors lifting American sailing death rates, with alcohol implicated in 15 percent of all sailing deaths.

“Drowning was the most common cause of death and, sadly, 82 percent of drowning victims were not wearing a life jacket,” said Andrew Nathanson, M.D., an emergency medicine physician at Rhode Island Hospital and clinical professor of emergency medicine at the Alpert Medical School of Brown University. “Death and injury can be prevented when skippers and passengers wear life jackets, abstain from alcohol while boating, and maintain proper vigilance.”

The vast majority of the sailing-related deaths during 2000 and 2011 occurred when boaters fell into the water. Alcohol intoxication was the leading preventable factor contributing to death, followed by operator inexperience and inattention. Together, operator-preventable contributing factors were associated with 37 percent of all fatalities. Weather or hazardous waters were listed as primary contributing factors in 28 percent of deaths.

“Neither experienced nor novice boaters were spared from injuries and death,” said Nathanson. “The boating accident reports chronicled mishaps from day sailing on a small boat on a lake, to cruising a catamaran along the coast, to racing competitively in a regatta. For the eight million people who go sailing at least once a year in the United States, the risks must be understood.”

By law, all boating deaths, disappearances, significant injuries and major vessel damage must be reported to authorities. The Coast Guard maintains a database of the reports, and the researchers analyzed the 4,180 reports detailing 271 fatalities and 841 injuries. They estimated the fatality rate at 1.19 deaths per million sailing person-days.

Comparatively, the fatality rates for alpine skiing and snowboarding are 1.06 per million skier/snowboarder person-days. During the 11-year study period, 271 deaths were related to sailing versus the 197 incidents of American football players who died during play or practice.

Nathanson’s study was published recently in the journal Wilderness and Environmental Medicine, a peer-reviewed international journal devoted to original scientific contributions on medicine defined by isolation, extreme natural environments, and limited access to medical help and equipment.

About Rhode Island Hospital
Founded in 1863, Rhode Island Hospital in Providence, R.I., is a private, not-for-profit hospital and is the principal teaching hospital of the Alpert Medical School of Brown University. A major trauma center for southeastern New England, the hospital is dedicated to being on the cutting edge of medicine and research. Last year, Rhode Island Hospital received more than $50 million in external research funding. It is also home to Hasbro Children’s Hospital, the state’s only facility dedicated to pediatric care. For more information on Rhode Island Hospital, visit

Source: David Levesque, Lifesapn

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