Officials Call for Caution over Busy Boating Weekend

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AUSTIN, Texas — Texas Parks and Wildlife Department officials are urging boaters and swimmers to be especially careful as thousands take to the state’s lakes and bays over the last holiday weekend of the summer.

"Typically, we see more accidents on the three big summer holidays — Memorial Day, 4th of July and Labor Day weekends," said Maj. Alfonso Campos, chief of marine safety enforcement for TPWD. "There are more people on the water and it’s usually a party atmosphere. For some folks, these long weekends are the only time they go out all year."

As of the last week of August, there have been 101 water fatalities in Texas so far this year. That’s down from 140 for the same period in 2007. Of those 101 reported victims, 32 died in boating accidents, compared to 45 by this time last year. There have been 173 reported boating accidents this year on Texas waters.

"We’ve seen what seems like a really sharp spike in shoreline drownings in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex," said Game Warden Lt. Jennifer Kemp. "It’s everyone from unsupervised children to young adults who don’t know how to swim. Do yourself and your family a favor: if you’re not a strong swimmer, please wear a life jacket."

Last year marked a four-year high in Texas boating fatalities, with 52, even though nationwide the number of fatalities dropped.

Boating and water safety advocates hope to see the downward trend in Texas this year continue.

"There are two things people can do that will really improve their chances of coming home safe," said Aaron Reed, a TPWD spokesman and boating education instructor. "First, designate a driver for the boat and for a safe ride home. It’s neither safe nor socially acceptable to drive drunk in a car or a truck, and the same holds true for boats. Second, wear a lifejacket. The new inflatable lifejackets, including the belt packs, are comfortable and effective."

Alcohol is believed to be a factor in about one-third of all boating fatalities in Texas. Of victims who drowned in boating accidents nationwide, approximately 85 percent were not wearing lifejackets. Penalties for Boating While Intoxicated (BWI) are similar to those for Driving While Intoxicated and can include suspension of the boat operator’s automobile driver’s license.

TPWD game wardens will be out in force on state waters over the holiday weekend. TPWD and Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA) "Nobody’s Waterproof" water safety outreach teams also will be on the water at Lake Travis this weekend, with the LCRA team providing safety games and free life jackets in the Mansfield Dam Recreation Area up to Devil’s Hollow and the TPWD team reaching boaters from Pace Bend Park to The Pier, both on Sunday.

There have been eight drownings at Lake Travis so far this year.

Editors’ Note: To schedule a ride on the LCRA Nobody’s Waterproof boat from Mansfield Dam, call Jennifer Scharlach at 512- 657-6255.

To schedule a ride on the TPWD Nobody’s Waterproof boat from Pace Bend Park, call Brandi Bradford at 512-657-6597.

To schedule ride-alongs with Dallas-Fort Worth-area game wardens (TPWD game wardens will have four boats on Lake Lewisville, and boats on other lakes throughout the region), call Lt. Jennifer Kemp at 817-343-8802.

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