Experts stress safety amid pandemic-fueled boating boom. Why are boating deaths on the rise?

Manchester — As boaters head to waterways across Connecticut, officials are stressing safety. Though summer is just starting, Connecticut has already seen nearly half as many boating deaths as it did in 2021.

So far this season four people have died, according to the Department of Environmental Protection.


Last month a boater was reported missing after going into the water at Candlewood Lake in Brookfield. The man, who has not been identified, went missing May 29. Remains of an unidentified person were recovered on June 16.

Back in April, a child died and three others were hospitalized when their boat capsized at Wyassup Lake in North Stonington. Also that month, two men died and two others were listed in critical condition after their boat capsized on Long Island Sound.


“We are seeing a slight uptick in fatalities at this point in the year,” said Jacob Budris, boating safety instructor and environmental analyst with DEEP. “While information on the fatalities is still coming out, there are three main causes overall for boating accidents: drinking or drug use while operating a boat, not wearing a life jacket and underestimating the conditions for the day. All can play a role.”

Last year seven people died in boating accidents in Connecticut — all males with an average age of 45. However, DEEP stressed some are still under active investigation.

According to the U.S. Coast Guard, 77% of boating deaths nationally were due to drowning and 75% weren’t wearing life jackets. Alcohol and drug use was the leading cause of boating-related deaths in 22% of adults and children in the U.S.

In Connecticut, 57% of fatalities involved alcohol or drug use and 71% were not wearing a life jacket, according to DEEP.

Budris stresses that accidents are preventable and it’s essential that all boaters, whether they’re new or experienced, understand boating safety and the law.

A boating boom

In Connecticut, all boats with motors — regardless of length — and all sailboats powered by sail alone, 19 1/2 feet or longer, must be registered before launching.

New boat registrations in Connecticut nearly doubled in 2020, according to the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. The state saw a surge in sales of personal water vessels during the COVID-19 pandemic as more people looked to hit the water while social distancing.

“Our state has seen an increase in boat sales in the past few years,” said Budris. “However, we have less boating registrations overall than we’ve had in the past. But we are definitely seeing more registrations than usual. We have yet to tell if this trend will continue or reverse.”


In addition to being registered, all recreational boaters are required to have either a Safe Boating Certificate or a Certificate of Personal Watercraft Operation to operate a boat in Connecticut. A Safe Boating Certificate permits an individual to operate any recreational vessel, except for a personal watercraft, on Connecticut’s waters. A Certificate of Personal Watercraft Operation allows an individual to operate any recreational vessel, including a personal watercraft such as a jet ski.

“We were seeing about 500 people register for boating certificate courses per year before the pandemic,” said Patrick Kilby, owner and lead instructor of Current Boating Education, which offers boating safety courses across the state. “That number has since doubled as more people have purchased personal water vessels in the last few years.”

Kilby is also a marine patrol officer for the town of Coventry and was hired to ramp up enforcement at Coventry Lake this season.

“There’s more folks on the water and so there’s more chance for accidents,” said Kilby. “It’s hard to track people who are not safety certified operating a boat in the state. It can be hard to enforce that requirement since you can buy a boat without needing a certification first.”

The fine for operating a boat without having the proper safety certification in Connecticut is $125.


“When we stop someone who does not have the proper certification, we do issue a fine,” said Kilby. “But there’s no more tracking after that. There’s really no way to tell if they just pay the fine and don’t take the course.”

Under Connecticut law, boating certifications are valid for life with no recertification requirements. Some boating safety advocates are beginning to question whether that requirement should change in light of the recent uptick in deaths.

“There’s been a lot of discussion around making boating safety certifications more like driver’s licenses,” said Kilby. “Right now under current law if you passed a boating safety course in the 1980s or 1990s it would still be valid today. There is some merit to making sure boaters are getting safety training more frequently.”

Stephen Underwood can be reached at