National Safe Boating Week Reminds Texans to Stay Safe on the Water

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AUSTIN — In 2016, there were more than 35 boating fatalities and hundreds of boat accidents and injuries on Texas waters. As part of National Safe Boating Week May 20-26, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department boater education and law enforcement staff are reminding Texans to be safe Memorial Day weekend and all summer long by following the law and taking basic safety precautions while on the water.

One of the main concerns during Memorial Day weekend and throughout the boating season is the dangerous and illegal consumption of alcohol by drivers on the road and on the water. Last year, Texas game wardens arrested 155 people who were operating a boat with a blood alcohol concentration above 0.08 percent, an offense that can lead to fines and the loss of license, not to mention the increased risk of accidents or fatalities on the water.

“Drinking and boating do not mix,” said Cody Jones, TPWD Assistant Commander for Marine Enforcement. “Not only is it the law, refraining from drinking alcohol while operating a vessel could save your life and the life of your loved ones.”

While boating accidents can be caused by a variety of circumstances, including drinking while boating, surviving an accident on the water boils down to one important precaution: wearing a lifejacket. U.S. Coast Guard statistics show that drowning was the reported cause of death in three- fourths of recreational boating fatalities in 2015, and that 85 percent of those who drowned were not wearing life jackets.

“Life jackets are important and they save lives – bottom line,” said Tim Spice, TPWD Boater Education Manager. “If you are uncomfortable around the water you should have a life jacket on, and if you’re under 13 it’s required by law.”

State law requires that a personal floatation device is available for each occupant of the boat, but only children under 13 years of age are mandated by the law to wear one while the boat or paddle craft is underway or drifting. Despite this law, last year in Texas more than 560 citations were issued for children not wearing a life jacket.

Basic boating safety precautions like avoiding alcohol and wearing a lifejacket extend to the smallest of vessels, too. As participation grows among paddlesports like kayaking, canoeing and stand-up-paddleboarding; accidents, fatalities and injuries involving them are growing as well. In 2016, Texas had 11 paddle craft fatalities, making up 31.4 percent of all boating fatalities for the year.

“It’s so easy to get in a paddle craft now – people are going out and having fun but they don’t know a lot about the boat they are operating,” Spice said. “We recommend any new paddlers take a safety class before hitting the water, and to never paddle alone.”

Paddlers can find a free online safety course on the TPWD website, and 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.

In addition to avoiding alcohol, wearing a lifejacket and taking a safety course, Spice said all boaters can be safer on the water by checking the weather, using an ignition safety switch and learning to swim. Most personal water craft and powerboats are equipped with an ignition safety switch, and the American Red Cross offers swimming lessons by certified instructors across the state.

Additional Resources

Safety requirements for operating a boat can be found here.

Click here for information on taking a boater’s education course.

Video is also available online at TPWD’s water safety page. “Never Happens” features the true stories of water tragedies told by teen witnesses and survivors, and “Beautiful but Gone” tells the story of boating and swimming-related accidents from the parents of teens featured in “Never Happens.”

For information about Texas boating laws and requirements, visit TPWD’s boating laws Web page.

Download the USCG’s boating safety mobile app here.