Arizona boating accidents fueled by operator inexperience, mistakes

Posted at 6:15 PM, Aug 11, 2017

On Lake Pleasant, Maricopa County Sheriff’s Deputy Mike Kikas has seen a lot.

“They think they get on a boat and out here it’s safe because you have all this room,” he said. “It’s scary how quickly things happen – in a blink of an eye.”

There have bene 468 boating accidents in the past five years, federal statistics show.

Kikas, who’s one of about eight deputies patrolling Lake Pleasant, said almost all problems he sees boil down to two main things: boating while intoxicated and a lack of education and experience.

“As long as you’re 12 years or older, you can come right on the water,” Kikas said. “You don’t need a driver’s license to get on the water.”

Asked if he thinks a lack of experience contributes to most of what he sees go wrong, he said, “absolutely.”

Kikas is correct.

The ABC15 Investigators reviewed years of detailed crash data from the U.S. Coast Guard, which collects information on nearly every serious boating incident in the state.

Operator error and inexperience account for the majority of crashes, far outpacing alcohol impairment or other causes.

From 2013 to 2015, 59 percent of crashes involved operator error or inexperience. Alcohol or drug impairment played a role in just 8 percent of crashes.

On a national scale, a lack of education and experience are also the leading factor in serious boating incidents.

According to a 2016 study, 77 percent of deadly crashes on U.S. waters involved operators who never had any instruction or education.

“There’s no reason why somebody shouldn’t know the rules,” Kikas said.

But there’s a big reason why many in Arizona don’t.

They don’t have to.

On eight states don’t require any type of education or instruction before operating a boat, including Arizona, according to the United States Power Squadron, a non-profit dedicated to boating safety.


On the Arizona Department of Game and Fish website, there are free online courses and information about free classroom courses.

Officials said most insurance companies offer a discount on your boat or PWC insurance rate for completing one of our courses.

Contact ABC15 Investigator Dave Biscobing at