As part of National Safe Boating Week May 19-25, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department boater education and law enforcement are reminding Texans to be safe this summer by following the law and taking basic safety precautions while on the water.
In 2017, 45 boating fatalities occurred on Texas waters, an increase of more than 28 percent from 2016. On top of that, marine enforcement officers logged 172 boating accidents and 83 boating related injuries. While boating fatalities and accidents can be caused by a variety of circumstances, surviving an accident on the water boils down to one important precaution – wearing a life jacket or personal flotation device (PFD).
“Wearing a life jacket is the most important strategy boaters can take to stay safe on the water,” said Tim Spice, TPWD Boater Education Manager. “The overwhelming majority of boating fatalities are caused by drowning and most of those drowning victims are recovered without a life jacket.”
“It’s not enough to just have a life jacket on board – people need to wear it,” Spice added. “Accidents on the water can happen too fast to reach and put on a stowed life jacket.”
State law requires that a life jacket must be available for each occupant of the boat and children under 13 years of age are mandated to wear one while the boat or paddle craft is underway or drifting. Despite these laws, in Texas last year the number of citations issued for children not wearing a life jacket increased by nearly 12 percent.
“Texas Game Wardens regularly perform vessel safety checks to ensure boat operators and passengers are following the law,” said Cody Jones, TPWD Assistant Commander for Marine Enforcement. “Everyone who will be operating a boat, personal water craft or paddle craft this summer should make sure they are in compliance with all vessel safety requirements before hitting the water.”
Law enforcement will also be on alert for those violating boating under the influence laws. Operating a boat with a blood alcohol concentration above 0.08 percent is an offense that can lead to fines, the loss of a driver’s license and an increased risk of accidents or fatalities on the water. In 2017, game wardens issued 152 boating under the influence or boating while intoxicated citations across the state.
“Alcohol use is the leading contributing factor in recreational boater deaths,” Jones said. “Not only does it endanger the lives of boat operators and passengers, it endangers the lives of everyone who is outside enjoying Texas lakes and rivers.”
Other boating safety tips to keep in mind this summer include:
Take a boating safety course: Paddlers can find a free online safety course on the TPWD website. For larger vessels, anyone born on or after Sept. 1, 1993, must complete a boater education course to operate a personal watercraft or a boat with a 15-horsepower rating or more. Boater education courses are regularly offered in many locations around the state, or boaters can find a selection of online boater courses that can be taken anytime online.
Learn to swim: The American Red Cross offers swimming lessons by certified instructors across the state.
Use an ignition safety switch: Most boat and personal water crafts come equipped by the manufacturer with an emergency engine cut-off switch. This safety device can shut off the engine if the operator falls off the personal water craft or out of the powerboat, or is otherwise thrown from the proper operating position.
For more information about boating safety, laws and requirements, visit TPWD’s boating laws website.