USCG 2010 Boating Accident Report Database (BARD) Has Been Castrated

The State of California asked USCG to remove their boating accidents from BARD beginning in 2000 to protect the privacy of their citizens. Supposedly their data is still included in the summaries, but we can no longer see the details of individual boating accidents in California. Over time, a few more states have leaped on the bandwagon, and this year it seems like they all jumped on.

A few weeks back, USCG sent us a copy of the public release version of the full 2010 Boating Accident Report Database (BARD). Yesterday we started to look at it more closely. A portion of the second page of some instructional materials enclosed with the database titled, Accident Reporting Overview states:

“Not all states/jurisdictions gave the Coast Guard the permission to release records. The Coast Guard did not have permission to release data from the following jurisdictions: Alaska, American Samoa, California, Connecticut, District of Columbia, Delaware, Guam, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada, North Dakota, the Northern Mariana Islands, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, South Carolina, South Dakota, Utah, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Washington. Thus, the records (1,910 accidents involving 2,549 vessels, 304 deaths and 1,308 injuries) from these states/jurisdictions were deleted.
In addition, there were several states that prohibited the release of some of their data. Arizona and New Jersey prohibited the release of vessel registration numbers and hull identification numbers. Thus, data in these two fields were deleted for the aforementioned two states. Massachusetts prohibited the release of medical information. Thus, data that referenced medical information such as the cause of death, primary injury, location of injury, and severity of treatment was deleted from the database.”

With full removal of data from over 20 states plus American Samoa, District of Columbia, Guam, Northern Mariana Islands, and Puerto Rico the database is pretty much worthless for many tasks. Two of the states removed are very major boating states (California and Michigan) which makes matters even worse.

Yes, we can still ask USCG directly to run certain numbers for us (like how many people under 18 were struck by a propeller last year) AND it may take some time, but USCG will do that, but we can’t see the underlying structure of the data, identify trends, see what we are missing, identify errors in the data, quickly follow up on insights, or find the real question we need to be asking.

While we tremendously appreciate USCG’s efforts in capturing the accident reports into BARD, we saw from our study of the rejected houseboat propeller safety regulation, they can really mess up the summary statistics. In addition BARD has several accidents that have been misclassified by accident or boat type, and several high profile accidents are not listed in it. We loose the ability to get to the root of the issue when about half the accident reports are missing (for those that were reported).

Right now USCG is calling for public comment on a proposed lanyard emergency engine kill switch regulation. While USCG has provided some basic BARD data in the proposal, I had considered doing my own analysis to see what we could find. Now we will not be doing that because the public version of BARD is no longer suitable for that purpose.

Before everybody jumps on the bandwagon to have the rest of the states remove their data, please note USCG has always removed the data most likely to cause privacy issues from the public release version of BARD. See their statement from the two page 2010 database release letter mentioned earlier;

“The federal government has redacted private information since the release of it would likely result in an infringement in personal privacy. Private information includes the names, contact information, dates of births, ages and any other identifiable information (driver’s license number, insurance policy number, social security number, etc) of all individuals involved in the accident.”

We call for the boating industry, boating trade organizations, and the United States Coast Guard to encourage states to put the boating accident data back in the database if they truly want to protect their citizens. We have never heard of a single instance of identity theft based on data in USCG’s BARD public release database. The only thing left in there that looks very private to us is boat registration numbers and hull id numbers. We do not care if they leave out / redact the boat registration numbers or if they truncate the HIN AFTER the prefix.

If these states really wanted to protect their people they would leave their data in BARD so boating safety professionals had access to it for designing safer boats and boating accessories AND those studying proposed boating safety regulations had access to the full public BARD accident data.

Looking at summary data correctly pulled from BARD vs. having the actual public release BARD is like reading the score of a baseball game without seeing all the underlying baseball statistics. However in real life, BARD summaries are often inaccurate so you even get the wrong score too.

Be Wise, Keep BARD Alive!

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