The Fourth of July holiday weekend is quickly approaching and those enjoying Texas waterways are finalizing their plans. Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) is reminding everyone to be safe this holiday weekend by following basic boating safety precautions while on the water.
Game wardens, the United States Coast Guard and thousands of law enforcement officers will be on heightened alert looking for those violating boating under the influence laws. The effort is in conjunction with Operation Dry Water, a nationally coordinated enforcement campaign focused on deterring boaters from boating under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
“Operating a boat under the influence of drugs or alcohol is a serious offense which will lead to your arrest and will include jail time, fines, and the loss of your driver’s license,” said Cody Jones, TPWD Assistant Commander for Marine Enforcement. “It also increases the risk of accidents or fatalities on the waterways.”
In 2020, game wardens made 193 criminal arrests for boating while intoxicated state-wide.
“Texas Game Wardens will be out in force to help ensure the public enjoys their time on the water responsibly,” said Jones. “Most of the tragic deaths and serious injuries that occurred in Texas waters last year could have been prevented.”
“Our primary goal is to make sure that everyone who leaves the dock gets back safely,” said Captain Jason Smith, United States Coast Guard Sector Commander, Houston-Galveston. “Boat sober, file a float plan, and check the weather. Remember, a stowed life jacket is as useful as the seatbelt you didn’t put on when you got in your car. You need to wear it for it to save your life.”
In 2020, boating accidents were at a 30-year all-time high. Fatalities on Texas waterways increased 45 percent in 2020 from 2019, while fatal accidents on the water rose by 61 percent. Overall, accidents on the water were up 67 percent, and injuries were up by 64 percent. More than 70 percent of boating accidents that occurred in 2020 were on open motorboats or personal watercraft. It is important that operators of motorboats and personal watercraft including kayaks, paddle boards, and canoes receive proper education and training on immediate steps to follow if a crisis on the water emerges.
The months of May through August traditionally have the highest numbers of injuries and fatalities statewide, with weekends seeing peak figures. Operator inattention, careless/reckless operation, operator inexperience, wake and alcohol use were among the top five accident causes or contributing factors to injuries or fatalities in 2020.
According to Texas state law, a life jacket must be available for each occupant of a boat or paddle craft. Children under the age of 13 are required to wear one while the boat or paddle craft is underway or drifting. In 2020, Texas game wardens issued 641 citations for children not wearing a life jacket, up 11 percent from the previous year. This year, 1,821 citations were issued for insufficient life jackets onboard, up 26 percent from 2019.
“Simple water safety precautions on Texas waterways include wearing a life jacket, learning how to swim, and closely supervising children,” said Kimberly Sorensen, TPWD Boating Education Manager. “Additionally, TPWD wants to remind you to use your engine cut-off switch which is a state and federal law and taking a boater education class. Know the rules of the waterway and check the weather beforehand. Boater’s should also never operate a vessel while under the influence of alcohol.”
For more information about boating safety, laws and requirements, visit TPWD’s boating laws website.