Human Performance Investigation in Recreational Boating Incidents

Investigations into aviation, commercial shipping, rail, and highway incidents indicate the majority of causes or contributing factors are related to human failures. Can the same be said for recreational boating?

There's a strong likelihood. But getting beyond likelihood to more conclusive evidence on their contribution requires consistently-collected data and information that not only identify factors that contributed to the incident, but also get at how and why failures occurred.

In 2012, NASBLA ERAC began its trek toward understanding human error and the factors that might be associated with performance failures in recreational boating incidents.   
Since then, it’s adopted a “lite” version of the Department of Defense’s Human Factors Analysis and Classification (HFACS) for analyzing cases, and used human performance investigation tools developed by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) to determine whether more human factors information could reasonably be gathered in the context of recreational boating incident investigations.

The result was ERAC's 2014 release of guidance and a supplemental report form for officers and investigators in states wishing to augment their investigations, add to the knowledge about human factors, and use it to evaluate their own safety programs and strategies.

But the package needed some real world testing to determine if the guidance and form enhanced the investigations and gave more depth and meaning to the analyses.Tennessee took up the challenge and applied it to their investigation of recreational boating fatalities in 2015. The analysis of results led to 2016 updates to the investigative guidance and report form. A 2017 "HFACS-lite" examination of some additional case reports from Florida-- at a greater level of detail than what was typically recorded in the U.S. Coast Guard's Boating Accident Report Database--was conducted in preparation for more extensive field testing of the revised supplemental report form in selected states.

If your state is interested in applying the guidance and supplemental form as part of the pilot project or would just like additional information, send an email to, with the subject line "ERAC Human Factors."


Human Performance Investigation in Recreational Boating Accidents: Best practices for gathering and examining human factors data. Issued by NASBLA ERAC, October 2014.

2016 Guidance Update
2016 Form Update
2016 Form Update (Fillable)

Go to the Lighthouse Library for more resources on Human Factors (under construction)

page last updated Nov. 24, 2020

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