Last year, 29 boating fatalities and hundreds of boat accidents and injuries occurred on Texas waters. As part of National Safe Boating Week May 18-24, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) law enforcement are reminding Texans to be safe this Memorial Day weekend and all summer long by following the law and taking basic safety precautions while on the water.
“Texas Game Wardens will be out in full force this weekend to ensure the public enjoys their time on the water responsibly, but we need boaters to make sure they are taking safety seriously, too,” said Cody Jones, TPWD Assistant Commander for Marine Enforcement. “Most of the tragic deaths and serious injuries that occurred in Texas waters last year could have been prevented by following a few simple and important steps – wearing a life jacket and using a safety ignition kill switch.”
A safety ignition kill switch comes equipped on most motorized boats, but it only works when boat operators take the extra step to clip it on. Jones said of the 29 boating fatalities that occurred in Texas last year, many could have been prevented if the driver had used a kill switch.
“Some accidents are unavoidable, but if a boat operator is ejected there is only one way to shut off the engine and stop the boat from hitting someone – a safety ignition kill switch,” Jones said. “It only takes a second to clip the safety ignition switch on to your belt loop or life jacket, and it could save your life or those of everyone onboard.”
State law requires that a life jacket must be available for each occupant of a boat or paddle craft, 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 game wardens issued 571 citations for children not wearing a life jacket, and 1,613 for insufficient life jackets on the vessel.
“Drowning is the highest reported cause of death in boating fatalities, and most victims are found not wearing a lifejacket,” Jones said. “It’s not enough to just stow your life jacket onboard because accidents on the water can happen much too fast to reach and put one on.”
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 2018, game wardens issued 162 boating under the influence or boating while intoxicated citations across the state.
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 and boaters can find a selection of online boater courses that can be taken anytime. Paddlers can also find a free paddling safety course online.
Other important safety precautions include checking the weather before entering the water, learning to swim, and knowing the rules of the waterway before launching on the lake. For more information about boating safety, laws and requirements, visit TPWD’s boating laws website.