AUSTIN – This Memorial Day weekend, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department reminds boaters to stay safe on the water.
Just in time for one of the busiest boating weekends of the year, National Safe Boating Week, which runs May 21-27 this year, highlights the importance of boating and water safety.
TPWD reminds boaters to always wear a life jacket, use an ignition safety switch, learn to swim, check the weather beforehand and take a boater education course. Boaters can take swimming lessons from the American Red Cross, which offers lessons by certified instructors across the state.
Anyone born on or after Sept. 1, 1993, must complete a boater education course to operate a personal watercraft or a boat with a horsepower rating of more than 15 hp. Taking a boater education course allows Texas boaters to enjoy boating in 48 other states, excluding Colorado and Connecticut, which require proctored exams for certification.
Because Texas is home to more square miles of inland waterways than any other state and nearly 570,000 registered boats – the sixth most in the nation – it is a prime state for boating activity. Texas game wardens will be out in force this holiday weekend to ensure the public enjoys their time on the water responsibly.
“A day on the water in Texas should be fun,” said TPWD Law Enforcement Division Director Col. Craig Hunter. “Texas Game Wardens will be on the water to help ensure you and your loved ones stay safe by following the basic rules of boating safety.”
Last year, Texas game wardens issued 1,353 citations and warnings during the Memorial Day weekend. Nearly half of those tickets were for violations related to boating safety, including failure to wear a life jacket, boating while intoxicated and boater education violations. In addition, nearly 71 percent of boat operators involved in boating-related fatalities in 2015 had not taken a boater education course.
“Most of the accidents that occur on the water could be prevented if boaters followed basic safety rules,” said TPWD Boater Education Manager Tim Spice. “Wear a lifejacket, use a kill switch and take boater education – these are simple steps, but they are life-saving.”
The U.S. Coast Guard conducted a study in 2015 that revealed 85 percent of people who drowned would be alive today if they had worn a life jacket, though only 6.1 percent of adults wear a life jacket in an open motorboat. Not wearing a life jacket is the number one water safety citation written by Texas game wardens.
“So many people who drowned would be alive today if they had only worn a life jacket,” said Spice. “There’s no excuse for not wearing one.”
The USCG also reported using an ignition safety switch, or “kill switch,” could reduce boating-related deaths by 89 percent and injuries by nearly 77 percent.
In addition to the basic boater safety tips, boaters are also advised to take precautions when operating certain “flats” boats designed for shallow water access. These boats have a tendency to swap ends during hard turns when operated at speeds of 25 MPH or greater and could potentially eject riders seated in the bow area. It is recommended that boats operating at speeds of 25 MPH or greater should have their jack plate in a downward position. Passengers are advised to sit in areas behind the console, where hand holds are more accessible.