With the July 4th holiday weekend on the horizon, Texans around the state are making plans to take advantage of the sunshine on the state’s waterways. Compared to this time last year, drownings are up more than 30 percent, so the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) is reminding everyone to be safe this holiday weekend by following basic boating safety precautions and public health guidelines while on the water.
“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 everyone to make sure they are taking safety seriously, too,” said Cody Jones, TPWD Assistant Commander for Marine Enforcement. “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.”
Before heading to the water, Texans should remember these simple recommendations- wear a life jacket, learn how to swim, closely supervise children, use a kill switch, never drive a boat while under the influence of alcohol and take a boater education class.
Safety precautions do not end at the shoreline. It is important that the public stay current with the latest COVID-19 safety precautions from state and local officials before heading to the water. Texans are encouraged to check with the managing authority of the waterbody they intend to visit for any local ordinances in place. Current recommendations include minimizing in-person contact by maintaining six feet of separation and avoiding groups larger than 10 people. Boaters should also continue to maintain a safe social distance and avoid crowds while out on the water or at docks and ramps.
Game wardens and thousands of law enforcement officers will also be on heightened alert looking for those violating boating under the influence laws. The effort is in conjunction with Operation Dry Water, a nationally coordinated enforcement campaign focused on deterring boaters from boating under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
“Boating under the influence is just as deadly as drinking and driving,” said Jones. “Every year we see dozens of boating accidents and tragedies on Texas waters that could have been avoided if the operator had refrained from drinking. We are calling on all Texans to keep our lakes safe and fun this holiday weekend and throughout the year by limiting alcohol consumption and having a designated driver at all times when boating on Texas waterways.”
Operating a boat with a blood alcohol concentration above 0.08 percent is an offense that can lead to fines, confinement in jail, and the loss of a driver’s license. In 2019, game wardens made 193 criminal arrests for boating while intoxicated across the state.
According to Texas state law, a life jacket must be available for each occupant of a boat or paddle craft. Children who are under the age of 13 are required to wear one while the boat or paddle craft is underway or drifting. Last year in Texas, game wardens issued 583 citations for children not wearing a life jacket and 1,483 for insufficient life jackets on the vessel. Some good news is the overall number of citations were down 5.4 percent compared to the previous year.
Additionally, Texans can check out the Life Jacket Association website for a guide to proper cleaning and storing of their Personal Flotation Devices in relation to the virus.
Other important safety precautions include checking the weather before heading to the water, learning to swim and knowing the rules of the waterway before launching on the lake. For more information about boating safety, laws and requirements, visit TPWD’s boating laws website.