Vol 73, No 3 (2022)
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Published online: 2022-10-10

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Characteristics of fatal marine accidents

Emma P. DeLoughery1
Pubmed: 36217975
IMH 2022;73(3):115-116.


Background: Venturing onto the water for business or pleasure is not a risk-free activity. Despite the dangers
facing crew and passengers there is little data on the characteristics of fatal accidents involving vessels
in the water. The goal of this study was to review accident reports from the National Transportation Safety
Board (NTSB) to determine characteristics of fatal marine accidents.
Materials and methods: Data was obtained from the Marine Accident Reports issued by the NTSB. Information
regarding the number of people involved, fatalities and the accident itself was collected.
Results: Fifty-two accidents involving 5045 people from 1972 to 2019 were included in the study, with
468 fatalities reported. Of the fatalities, 155 (33.1%) were definitely on the vessel when they died,
49 (10.5%) were probably on the vessel, 65 (13.9%) were definitely or likely in the water, and the location
of 199 (42.5%) was unknown. The most common cause of death was drowning (88, 18.8%), the most
common accident cause was sinking (63.5%), and accidents most often started during nighttime hours
(7pm–7am, 30, 57.7%).
Conclusions: This study found that sinking was the most common accident cause for fatal marine accidents,
drowning the most common cause of death, and where fatality location was known most were on the vessel
when they died. This suggests that, particularly when a ship is in the process of sinking, it is of paramount
importance to ensure passengers and crew are familiar with exit routes, are able to exit the vessel, and
are instructed to do so in a timely manner.

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