In 2019, 36 boating fatalities, and multiple boat accidents and injuries occurred on Texas waters. In conjunction with National Safe Boating Week May 16-22, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) is 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.”
“With the virtual teleworking and schooling that is taking place, a number of people have used extra free time and decided to hit the Texas waterways,” added Jones. “This stark increase in boating and open water recreation has brought a sobering reminder that water is the great equalizer. During March and April of 2020, Texas has experienced a roughly 45 percent increase in open water-oriented fatalities including boating and swimming incidents over the same period in 2019. Summer has arrived early for many and with it comes the need for people to remember to wear their life vest.”
Safety ignition kill switches are equipped on most motorized boats, but their effectiveness rides on the boat operators to take the extra step to clip it on and Kali’s Law now requires it of boat operators on vessels under 26ft. in length when going greater than headway speed. Jones said of the 36 boating fatalities that occurred in Texas last year, many could have been prevented if the driver used the kill switch.
“Some accidents are unavoidable, but if a boat operator is thrown from the helm or 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 and the lives of everyone onboard.”
According to Texas state law, a life jacket must be available for each occupant of a boat or paddle craft. Children who are under the age of 13 are required to wear one while the boat or paddle craft is underway or drifting. Last year in Texas, game wardens issued 583 citations for children not wearing a life jacket and 1,483 for insufficient life jackets on the vessel. Some good news is that the overall number of citations were down 5.4 percent compared to the previous year.
“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 the lookout for those violating boating under the influence laws. Operating a boat under the influence of drugs or alcohol 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. Game wardens issued 193 boating under the influence or boating while intoxicated citations across the state in 2019.
In order to operate a personal watercraft or a boat with a 15-horsepower rating or more, anyone born on or after Sept. 1, 1993 must complete a boater education course. Boaters can find a selection of online boater courses that can be taken anytime. Paddlers can also access a free paddling safety course online.
Other important safety precautions include checking the weather before heading to 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.
The public is encouraged to check with managing authority of the waterbody they intent to visit for any local ordinances still in place. Also, boaters should continue to maintain a safe social distance while out on the water or at docks and ramps in accordance with recommended public health guidelines. All boating laws are still in effect.
Additionally, Texans can check out the Life Jacket Association website for a guide to proper cleaning and storing of their Personal Flotation Devices (PFDs) in relation to COVID-19.
Boaters are encouraged to check the status of the waterbody they’re planning to visit before heading out, as some access points may be closed. For boat registration information, visit TPWD’s Temporary Closures and Operations Adjustments website.