HAMPTON ROADS, Va. (WAVY) – The statistics are out for recreational boating incidents in 2022 and Hampton Roads is – perhaps surprisingly – not at the top of the list.
Despite having more waterways than anywhere else in the state, the number of boating accidents in the region was lower than both Smith Mountain Lake and Lake Anna, according to the state Department of Wildlife Resources’ annual Recreational Boating Incident Summary.
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There were 87 total incidents across the state in which someone was injured or at least $2,000 worth of damage was done. That’s the lowest number since 2018, which saw 82.
So why are Hampton Roads’ numbers as low as they are? According to Lt. Frank Spuchesi at DWR: space and experience.
He explained that while the inland lakes may be calmer than the bay or coast, they’re also a lot smaller and potentially more congested. Smith Mountain Lake sits at around 20,000 acres and Lake Anna contains about 15,000. The Chesapeake Bay, on the other hand, is around 3 million acres, not to mention the vastness of the Atlantic Ocean. Even with all of the commercial fishing, shipping and naval traffic, there’s just more room to move around and avoid collisions.
Then there’s the simple fact that many of the boaters on Virginia’s inland lakes just don’t have a lot of experience.
“There are a lot more campgrounds and there’s probably a lot more people who have maybe just gotten a brand new boat or are trying boating out for the first time – or don’t boat as much,” Spuchesi told us. “Where you get down around Hampton Roads, people live on the water; they’ve grown up on the water for their whole lives.”
“Around the Hampton Roads area, a lot of those boats are going to have better electronics, better GPS on their boats and they may be more aware,” he added.
In 2022, 17 people were killed in recreational boating accidents. In all but one of those instances, the person who died wasn’t wearing a lifejacket.
Any seasoned boater can tell you the rules for personal flotation devices in Virginia: You don’t have to wear one, but you have to have one in the boat.
What many people don’t understand, however, is that you are required to wear them while on personal watercraft such as jet skis, Wave Runners, canoes, kayaks and paddleboards.
In September 2022, a kayaker was killed after attempting to paddle near the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel. That person was not wearing a life jacket – and wasn’t found for four days.
In January, four people left on a hunting trip in the Chincoteague Channel during bad weather. Waves knocked out their motor and caused their 16-foot boat to begin sinking, resulting in two deaths. None of them was wearing life jackets.
In July, a 51-year-old man drowned in the Elizabeth River after his motorboat collided with a barge. He was also not wearing a personal flotation device.
So, it’s never a bad idea to wear one, especially if you’re not a strong swimmer.
Alcohol consumption (coupled with dehydration and heat exhaustion), inattentiveness and not having a good lookout to see what’s in front of the boat were all contributing factors to boating accidents.
“The most common factor in boating accidents is operator inattention – and obviously if you’re drinking, you’re not going to be as attentive when you’re on the water,” Spuchesi said. “So, although alcohol is a contributing factor in a lot of incidents, it’s probably not our major contributor, which is just being inattentive.”