With the annual Memorial Day weekend unofficially kicking off the summer boating season across Texomaland, this year’s holiday brings an extra measure of concern.
That’s because most area lakes are high and muddy after another springtime of heavy rainfall and thunderstorms. That includes Lake Texoma, which as of this writing, is sitting at 626.53 feet above sea level, a mark that is some 9.53 feet high as another surge of floodwaters starts rolling down the Red and Washita Rivers.
Other area lakes are flooded too, including several in southern Oklahoma that are more than 10 feet high along with Lake Ray Roberts, which is nearly five feet above normal as of Thursday morning.
That means that the Memorial Day weekend, already one of the most dangerous few days to be on the water each year, is even more so in 2019. That’s because of so much high water, which inundates shoreline objects, obscures submerged rocks and points, and allows for debris and logs to float around in the stained water.
One thing that boaters can be sure of as the May 18-24, 2019 National Safe Boating Week concludes today — and as Memorial Day weekend arrives — is that Texas Parks and Wildlife Department game wardens will be out in full force the next few days, hoping to help reduce the 29 boating fatalities and many injuries and accidents that occurred on Texas waters in 2018.
“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, in a news release.
“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.”
TPWD noted in its release that a safety ignition kill switch comes equipped on most motorized boats, but only works when boat operators take the extra step to clip it on.
“Some accidents are unavoidable, but if a boat operator is ejected there is only one way to shut off the engine and stop the boat from hitting someone — a safety ignition kill switch,” said Jones. “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 or those of everyone on board.”
Also keep in mind that Texas state law requires that a life jacket must be available for each occupant of a boat or paddle craft, and that children under 13 years of age are mandated to wear one while the boat or paddle craft is underway or drifting. Despite such regulations, Texas game wardens issued 571 citations in 2018 for children not wearing a life jacket along with 1,613 tickets for vessels having insufficient life jackets aboard.
“Drowning is the highest reported cause of death in boating fatalities, and most victims are found not wearing a lifejacket,” noted Jones in the news release. “It’s not enough to just stow your life jacket on board because accidents on the water can happen much too fast to reach and put one on.”
TPWD game wardens will also be looking for those violating the state’s boating under the influence laws. In Texas, TPWD says that 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 bring an increased risk of accidents or fatalities on the water. In 2018, TPWD game wardens issued 162 boating under the influence or boating while intoxicated citations across the state.
Other boating safety tips to keep in mind this Memorial Day holiday weekend include: posting a passenger as an extra lookout to help watch for trouble when a boat is underway; not overloading a boat; operating at a safe speed; watching out for floating obstacles or submerged objects; and keeping an eye to the sky for threatening weather conditions.
Finally, keep in mind that in Texas, anyone born on or after Sept. 1, 1993, must complete a TPWD boater education course to operate a personal watercraft or a boat with a 15 horsepower rating or more. For more information on such courses, call TPWD at 1-800-792-1112 or visit the agency’s website at www.tpwd.texas.gov.