With the arrival of Monday’s Memorial Day holiday, the upcoming long weekend once again serves as the unofficial start to the summer boating season on Lake Texoma.
With warm, sunny weather expected much of the weekend, there’s little doubt that thousands of boaters, fishermen, and other water enjoying visitors will find the weekend serving as one of the most enjoyable time periods of the upcoming summer.
Unfortunately, it’s also a potentially dangerous time of the year to be out on the local water body as two area drowning deaths in recent days — one at Lake Texoma, the other at nearby Lake Ray Roberts — solemnly remind.
The arrival of this year’s Memorial Day kick off to the Texoma boating season also comes after one of the deadlier years in recent memory for Texas boating mishaps and fatalities.
In fact, in a news release concerning this week’s National Safe Boating Week observation, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department noted that in 2017, a total of 45 boating fatalities occurred on Texas waters bodies. Unfortunately, that’s an increase of more than 28 percent from 2016.
The Austin-based agency also notes that last year, marine enforcement officers across the state logged 172 boating accidents and 83 boating related injuries as well.
While fatalities in such boating accidents are caused by a variety of circumstances, TPWD says that surviving an accident on the water usually boils down to one very important precaution — wearing a life jacket or personal flotation device (PFD).
“Wearing a life jacket is the most important strategy boaters can take to stay safe on the water,” said Tim Spice, TPWD Boater Education manager. “The overwhelming majority of boating fatalities are caused by drowning and most of those drowning victims are recovered without a life jacket.”
“It’s not enough to just have a life jacket on board — people need to wear it,” Spice added. “Accidents on the water can happen too fast to reach and put on a stowed life jacket.”
TPWD notes that Texas state law requires that a life jacket must be available for each occupant of the boat. In addition, children under 13 years of age are mandated to wear one while the boat, watercraft or paddle craft is underway or drifting.
(Editor’s Note: For full PFD legal requirements, visit the TPWD Web site at www.tpwd.texas.gov.)
Even so, the agency notes that despite that law, the number of citations issued last year across the Lone Star State for children not wearing a life jacket increased by nearly 12-percent.
“Texas game wardens regularly perform vessel safety checks to ensure boat operators and passengers are following the law,” said Cody Jones, TPWD assistant commander for Marine Enforcement. “Everyone who will be operating a boat, personal watercraft or paddle craft this summer should make sure they are in compliance with all vessel safety requirements before hitting the water.”
If failure to wear a PFD is one significant cause of boating fatalities, another is consuming alcohol and operating a boat or other type of watercraft.
To that end, TPWD game wardens will be on high alert this upcoming weekend for those violating the state’s boating under the influence and/or boating while intoxicated (BWI) laws.
According to the agency news release, 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.
As with PFD regulation violations, there are entirely too may violations of the state’s BWI laws. In fact, TPWD notes that in 2017, the agency’s game wardens issued 152 boating under the influence or boating while intoxicated citations across the state.
“Alcohol use is the leading contributing factor in recreational boater deaths,” said Jones. “Not only does it endanger the lives of boat operators and passengers, it endangers the lives of everyone who is outside enjoying Texas lakes and rivers.”
What are some of the other ways that you, your family, and your friends can enjoy the upcoming holiday weekend on the water while keeping the safety odds in your favor?
The following safety tips, while not an exhaustive list by any means, can serve as a fair start for your holiday boating safety considerations:
• In addition to never drinking alcohol and operating a boat, watercraft, or paddle craft, take the next step and never ride along with someone who is violating this key boating safety mandate. It’s just as deadly a mix, even if you’re not the one operating the craft.
• Given your exposed condition and low profile to the water, be especially careful when enjoying personal watercrafts, canoes, kayaks, and float tubes. Always be on the lookout for potential trouble.
• Enroll in a boater education class. TPWD notes that paddlers can find a free online safety course on the agency’s website. TPWD also notes that 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. Finally, the agency notes that 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 online.
• Learn to swim. TPWD notes that the American Red Cross offers swimming lessons that are taught by certified instructors across the state.
• Use an ignition safety switch. As TPWD notes, most boat and personal watercrafts come equipped by the manufacturer with an emergency engine cut-off switch. Such a safety device can shut off the engine if the operator falls off the personal watercraft or out of the powerboat, or is otherwise thrown from the proper operating position.
• Other boating safety tips to consider include the following: not overloading your boat; always operating at a safe speed; always having a passenger serve as a lookout in addition to the operator; watching out for low water areas, floating hazards, or submerged objects; and keeping an eye to the sky for threatening weather (if you hear thunder, see lightning, or spot a storm moving in your direction, get off the water and into a safe place.)
For additional boating safety information, please visit the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Web site at www.tpwd.texas.gov or call the agency toll-free at 1-800-792-1112.
You can also gain boating and water safety information by visiting the U.S. Coast Guard’s online Boating Safety Resource Center at www.uscgboating.org.