Texas boating safety key for Memorial Day weekend

Lynn Burkhead
For the Herald Democrat

In case you haven't noticed, it's National Safe Boating Week this week as the annual event runs from May 22-28.

You probably also know that this weekend marks the first unofficial boating holiday of the summer season as Texas and the world continues to emerge from the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

That means that weather permitting, there will be a lot of boaters and anglers at Lake Texoma this holiday weekend, hoping for some sun and a good time on the water.

Unfortunately, the summer's first big holiday weekend comes against the deadly specter of 2020, a year when the coronavirus wasn't the only thing providing disturbing headlines. Put bluntly, boating safety news was simply horrible a year ago in the Lone Star State, and so far this year, the trend is much the same.

According to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, boating accidents in 2020 were at a 30 year all-time high while fatalities on Texas waterways increased 45 percent over the previous year. What's more, fatal accidents on the water rose by 61 percent and overall, accidents on the water were up 67 percent. Injuries were also high, up by 64 percent.

In total, there were 55 boating fatalities and multiple boat accidents and injuries last year on Texas waters according to TPWD. More than 70 percent of those came from open motorboats and personal watercrafts, two things you can expect to see plenty of this weekend.

While 2020 was bad, 2021 isn't good so far since from January through April this year, Texas has experienced a 40-percent increase in open water-oriented fatalities according to TPWD. That includes boating and swimming incidents, popular ways that the crowds at Texoma will be enjoying their holiday weekend.

Needless to say, TPWD game wardens will be working overtime in the next few days.

“Texas Game Wardens will be out in full force Memorial Day weekend to ensure the public enjoys their time on the water responsibly, however, we need boaters to ensure they are taking safety seriously, too,” said Cody Jones, assistant commander for marine enforcement at TPWD, in a news release.

“Most of the deaths and serious injuries that occurred in Texas waters last year were preventable by following a few simple, important steps – including using the safety ignition cut-off switch (ECOS) and wearing life jackets.”

Life jackets, of course, are a key part of boating safety, even if you’re in a canoe or a kayak that doesn’t have a motor.

“According to Texas state law, a life jacket must be available for each occupant of a boat or paddle craft,” said Kimberly Sorensen, TPWD’s boating education manager. “Children who are under the age of 13 are required to wear a life vest while on the boat or when the paddle craft is underway or drifting.”

Other ways of increasing boating safety this weekend are refusing to mix alcohol and fun on the water, checking the weather before heading out, being sure you know how to swim, checking your equipment before a trip, ensuring sufficient waterproof communication devices, knowing the rules of the waterway before launching, and being aware that high water can cause unseen objects to lurk unsafely below the water’s edge.

Boating safety is one of those subjects that most pay little attention too. But as the numbers from 2020 and 2021 attest too, that needs to change. Otherwise, expect more tough headlines at a time of year when everyone just wants to have a little fun out on the water.