From Tragedy to Triumph


For the estimated 100 million boaters in America, the sight of water — be it the ocean, a river or lake — makes us want to jump in and enjoy. Unfortunately, water activities can go from happiness to heartbreak in a split second. Last year, more than 4,000 boating-related accidents and 636 deaths occurred in the United States, according to the 2022 Recreational Boating Statistics, published annually by the U.S. Coast Guard.

Behind those grim statistics are the bereaved families and friends who saw a boating safety need and have turned their personal tragedy into triumph by starting grassroots efforts to address big maritime problems. Behind the fundraising, hands-on education and advocating for changes in legislation, these groups collectively want to bolster public awareness to prevent future incidents and fatalities.

Education Saves Lives

Monica Burguera Foundation | KEys

Monica Burguera Foundation (MBF)

Twenty-year-old Monica Burguera and five friends from Florida International University rented a boat for the Columbus Day Regatta festivities in Biscayne Bay in October 2006. They started heading back to the marina after sunset when the rental broke down and left them drifting and in the path of danger. Minutes later, a 35-foot powerboat T-boned the students’ boat, with Burguera killed in the collision.

In the wake of the fatal accident, Burguera’s family and friends created the Monica Burguera Foundation and partnered with the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) to offer free monthly boating safety classes.

“MBF believes that boating safety education can prevent accidents and deaths,” says Mabel Rodriguez, the foundation’s administrator. Classes that teach boater education, navigation rules, anchoring, navigation aids and situational awareness are offered online in English and Spanish via MBF’s website.

Since 2008, the MBF’s efforts have resulted in more than 10,000 students earning a USCG Auxiliary Certificate of Accomplishment via its About Boating Safety Courses. Many insurance companies offer 10% to 15% discounts for boaters with a USCG certificate.  

     “Where instruction was known, 74% of deaths occurred on boats where the operator did not receive boating safety instruction. Only 14% percent of deaths occurred on vessels where the operator had received a nationally approved boating safety education certificate.”

         — 2022 Recreational Boating Statistics, U.S. Coast Guard

Tide Guides & Much More

Inspired by Hannah

She got her boater’s license at age 14, piloted the family’s 21-foot Bayliner on the St. Lawrence River and bought a 17-foot Sea Ray Bowrider when she relocated to the Chesapeake Bay area for a new job. Twenty-three-year-old Hannah Ash was indeed an experienced boater.

Inspired by Hannah Tide Guide Sign | CHRIS PIX HARBOR

In September 2020, when Ash and her friends were returning from a day trip on the Corsica River to Conquest Beach, calm waters belied a disaster-in-waiting ahead: extreme tidal shifts caused by the previous night’s full moon. Ash stood inside the open glass windshield as the boat unexpectedly hit a sandbar. She was thrown overboard and perished.

In this catastrophic wake, Hannah’s parents founded Inspired by Hannah. One of the nonprofit’s notable works is boat safety packets with a pre-departure checklist and the Coast Guard’s mandatory equipment list for boats 26-feet or smaller. Also in the packet are tide guide signs placed at boat launches in Queen Anne’s County, MD, with QR codes that take boaters directly to real-time tidal information.

“In the first year, there have been 900+ scans of these signs,” says David Ash, Hannah’s father. “Our goal is to expand this initiative to reach more families and boaters.” In July, Inspired by Hannah introduced its newest boating safety piece, a two-page brochure aimed at keeping children safe on the water.

“Collisions (with vessels, objects, groundings) were the most frequent first event in accidents, attributing to 55% of accidents, 21% of deaths, and 53% of injuries.”

            — 2022 Recreational Boating Statistics, U.S. Coast Guard

Traffic Alerts on the Water

Better Bay Alliance

Better Bay Alliance - Example of Live Chart | Courtesy of BBA

Narragansett Bay, a nearly 150-square- mile stretch north of Rhode Island Sound, is a hub of boating and water sports. Many, from the America’s Cup to small club races, paddleboard events and distance swims, take place in Newport.

In August 2019, while racing on an 18’ two-man catamaran in the New England Regatta 100 just off Newport, Sandra Tartaglino was struck and killed by a larger powerboat with an inattentive operator.

Months later, friends founded the Better Bay Alliance. “The U.S. Coast Guard’s weekly notice to mariners for Rhode Island covers a large area of the East Coast from Maine to New Jersey, and the focus is on major hazards to navigation. We stepped in to fill the breach by creating a live chart on the website that alerts boaters along the state’s coastline to smaller events where there is likely to be high boating traffic,” says Steve Prime, the nonprofit’s president.

Users can dial in the Live Chart features to date, time of day and check for sail, power, kayak/SUP, social, and other marine events, and adjust their voyage accordingly or be extra-alert to fellow mariners. A recent success was the re-direction of a large cargo ship out of the path of over 100 eight-foot optimist dinghy sailors competing in a regatta that day.  

“Operator inattention, operator inexperience, improper lookout, excessive speed, and machinery failure ranked as the top five primary contributing factors in accidents.”

          —2022 Recreational Boating Statistics, U.S. Coast Guard

Preventing DUIs on the Water

The Y-noT Project

Tony Borcia was having the time of his life tubing with his family on the Chain O’ Lakes, in northern Illinois in July 2012. The fun stopped abruptly when he fell off the tube and was struck and killed by the operator of a 26-foot powerboat with alcohol and cocaine in his system. Petite Lake, one of the smaller of the 10 Chain O’ Lakes, seemed idyllic for a day on the water. However, the family learned that the peace here shattered regularly on weekends when boaters used the lake as a high-speed cut-through to the bigger lakes.

Y-noT Project 2 | Courtesy of Y-noT

“Boating is one of the last places it’s still socially acceptable to drink and drive. We started the Y-noT Project to change this culture, makes our lakes and rivers safe again, and do this by ending drunk driving boating accidents,” says Margaret Borcia, Tony’s mother and nonprofit president.

Through donations, sponsorships and proceeds of an annual wiffle ball tournament, Y-noT has raised over $250,000. A new patrol boat for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (DNR), state-of-the-art breathalyzers and a 56-hour U.S. Coast Guard training course for DNR and Lake County Sheriff patrol officers are a few resources funded.

The Y-noT Project’s advocacy also led to Tony’s Law in 2014, requiring boaters to fly orange flags to warn other vessels they are towing tubers or skiers. “We’ve had calls from southern Illinois and other states about how they can incorporate the orange flags in their areas,” says Borcia.  

“Alcohol use is the leading known contributing factor in fatal boating accidents; where the primary cause was known, it was listed as the leading factor in 16% of deaths.”

           — 2022 Recreational Boating Statistics, U.S. Coast Guard

Put a Lifesaver Ring on It

Float It Forward

Courtesy of Cade Redmond, founder of Float It Forward

Lake Norman, located 40 miles north of Charlotte, NC, is the largest man-made body of fresh water in the state. It has 520 miles of shoreline, much of it dotted by residential homes with docks. Last October, 13-year-old Cade Redmond watched as emergency responders searched for the helper working on the house next door after he went for a lunch break swim, returned within 10 feet of the dock, and disappeared under the water.

“I walked down and heard the contractor say, ‘If I had something to throw to him, I think I could have saved him!’ That’s when I got the idea that every dock should have a lifesaver ring. You see them at pools, but not often on docks,” says Redmond. Since then, Redmond’s Float it Forward awareness campaign has sold over 300 lifesaver rings, devices West Marine provided at a wholesale price.

The Lake Norman Marine Commission, Cornelius Police Department’s Lake Division, Cornelius Mayor Woody Washam Jr, and the million-plus-follower Instagram personality, The Qualified Captain, aka Aaron Stasiak, have all helped Redmond spread the Float it Forward message.

“It doesn’t matter where someone gets their lifesaver ring, from us or somewhere else, it’s all about them getting one and installing it on their dock,” says Redmond, who hopes the reach of his campaign will grow beyond North Carolina. In January, he’ll man a booth at the Discover Boating Nashville Boat Show where he plans to encourage dock builders to finish the job with the gift of a lifesaver ring for their customers.  

Nearly 80% of people who die from drowning are male, with factors contributing such as increased exposure to water and risk-taking behaviors.

         — Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control

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