Fatal casualties in recreational marine incidents. A Norwegian perspective

In a scoping study of recreational marine accidents in Norway 2008-2018 the Norwegian marine incident branch collated information about recreational fatalities, and incidents. Half the fatalities were attributable to drowning, associated with capsize especially in the context of small vessels, falling overboard, or falling between jetty and vessel.

Due to collection methods the most reliable data comes from 2018 when 23 fatalities occurred. While this is a small overall number each life lost is a tragedy. The reasons for fatalities in the Norwegian survey largely tally with information in academic publications on marine casualties. The English (not authoritative) translation of the Accident Investigation Branch Norway is publicly available.

  • Half of fatalities arose after drowning following a capsize or after falling overboard.
  • One in four of those who died were foreign tourists in rented vessels.
  • One in five of the fatalities resulted from falling into the water between moored craft and a jetty.
  • Despite grounding and collisions being high profile incidents, only 20% of incidents involved one or other of these.

Contributing factors

In most cases associated with drowning investigators found that it took longer than 45 minutes for the alarm to be raised, and that those who fell overboard lacked methods of raisin the alarm. Drowning after capsize was logically, mostly connected with small boats and kayaks. Half of those who drowned were foreign nationals who had borrowed or rented the vessel.


Of the 20% of fatalities associated with falling between vessel and jetty, there were two specific common factors. Firstly, severe intoxication, and secondly failure to wear a PFD.

While grounding and collisions are high profile accidents, that are often reported, they were only associated with 1 in 5 of the fatalities. Among those high speed, severe or moderate intoxication, and twilight conditions. A number of the casualties were related to people trying to get home using jet-skis or power craft after a ‘night out’.

The detailed analysis by the Accident Investigation Board Norway on the casualties in 2018 is careful and of considerable value.

 Does information about risk change behaviour?

Risk perception is the subjective judgement people make about the nature and severity of a risk. Perception is of the nature and degree of risk stems from a summation of cognitive and emotional appraisals. The degree to which risk perception is altered by cognitive understanding, that for example wearing lifejackets could prevent one in two drownings 1 is limited. However even if there is a limited direct effect knowledge can influence the curriculums of training providers and inform peer leaders in the boating and sailing community.

How can we apply these lessons to other countries??

Among people under the age of 45, around 2,500 people die in accidents or by suicide in Norway. Between 2008 and 2018 on average 38 people died in recreational marine accidents, about 1.5% of the total. These ratios are important in scaling, or converting the Norwegian experience to that of other countries.

One reason for the Norwegian investigation branches particular interest in this area is that the trend of recreational craft accidents in Norwegian water has increased every year from between 1100 to over 1400 in the ten years before 2018. This is likely associated with the substantial increase in the amount of leisure boating and marine tourism in Norway.

  1. Cummings P, Mueller BA, Quan LAssociation between wearing a personal floatation device and death by drowning among recreational boaters: a matched cohort analysis of United States Coast Guard dataInjury Prevention 2011;17:156-159. ↩︎