A recent TikTok trend encourages people to jump off boats, sometimes in shallow water, causing injury and death.
It's the latest in a long list of dangerous behavior highlighted on social media, leaving specific subgroups at high risk for being influenced.
Boat jumping—one of the latest daredevil trends to take off on TikTok—has resulted in four deaths over the past 6 months in Alabama. The challenge has collected over 213.5 million views on TikTok and encourages people to jump off moving boats into the water.
While jumping off a boat may seem like a relatively low-risk activity to some, leaping out of a moving boat into the water is like smacking into concrete, boat safety experts say.
This can cause serious harm and lead to life-threatening injuries. Short, viral videos, however, don’t spell out these risks; instead, they focus on the thrill and excitement of the challenge. “This can lead to viewers not taking the risks seriously, as they may think it is harmless or without consequence,” David Seitz, MD, the medical director of Ascendant Detox in New York City, NY, told MDLinx. As a result, more people partake in the trend—and a spike in injuries may occur.
Here’s why boat jumping and trends like it are causing people to endanger their lives.
Why boat jumping can be so dangerous
Though boat jumping is a new trend, plenty of evidence highlights the types of accidents and injuries that can occur when people dive into water.
When people dive off a boat into shallow waters, they risk fracturing their vertebrae or injuring their spinal cord. Some people who’ve jumped into shallow waters have hit their heads on hidden objects at the bottom of the water. Research shows that the mere force of jumping into water—depending on what body part enters the water first—can lead to foot and ankle breaks, neck and cervical spine injuries, bruises, and muscle strains.
Many people who go boating don’t wear life jackets, despite numerous fatal and nonfatal drownings occurring yearly due to boating accidents. Alcohol is also a significant factor in boating-related drownings, as people may become disoriented when submerged in the water.
Fortunately, most people survive diving accidents; however, the injuries sustained during the incident can have a lasting impact on people’s quality of life. Spinal cord injuries, for example, can permanently impair people’s physical function and mental health. In rare cases, such as those in Alabama, they can result in death.
How TikTok encourages risky behavior
TikTok videos rarely reveal or adequately explain these risks to viewers. “The condensed format of TikTok videos can lead to a lack of context and safety guidelines, resulting in users imitating risky actions without considering the potential consequences,” says Avigail Lev, PsyD, a licensed clinical psychologist at the Bay Area CBT Center.
People tend to do things they see other people doing. In addition, unpredictable rewards—like nailing a complex jump from a boat—tend to be more enticing than predictable actions, explains Ryan Sultán, MD, the director of Integrative Psych and Mental Health Informatics Lab at Columbia University in NYC.
Boat jumping is just one of many concerning TikTok trends that are putting people’s lives in jeopardy. Research from the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) has identified several trends that have raised alarms in the medical community, including challenges that encouraged people to swerve along the road while driving, complete various tasks while blindfolded, and wrap oneself in duct tape with the goal of escaping under a set time limit.
Dr. Lev says that many of these trends glamorize risk-taking behaviors. “Recent incidents, such as the boat jumping trend, showcase potentially dangerous actions and create an illusion of excitement and thrill,” Dr. Lev says.
As mentioned, these types of videos can influence others to imitate such behaviors without totally understanding the risks involved, says Dr. Lev. At the same time, viral videos create a sensation of fear of missing out, she adds, causing people to feel pressured to participate and post their attempts at the challenge. By posting their own attempt at a viral challenge, people can gain “social proof,” says Dr. Sultán. “Social media platforms display the number of likes, shares, and comments, which can influence users to engage with popular content,” he explains.
People who have ADHD, are inherently impulsive or are under the age of 26 are particularly vulnerable to giving these risky challenges a go, according to Dr. Sultán. “Our higher-level thinking that might stop us from doing dangerous things doesn't fully develop until [our] mid-20s,” he says.
It’s crucial for people to remember that not everything they see on social media is a true or accurate depiction of what an activity may be like. “Many of these trends are often heavily edited and should not be taken as fact,” Dr. Seitz says. Boat jumping—packaged in a short, flashy video—may look like a thrill, but the dangers far exceed the potential rewards. You just won’t know it from what you see on TikTok.