TPWD reports a surge in boating fatalities

TPWD reports a surge in boating fatalities

The Fourth of July holiday weekend always sets the stage for a mega surge in boating here in Southeast Texas and, of course, the lakes and rivers of the Pineywoods. In fact, what makes the right side of Texas such a big draw for so many boaters are the many options. Along the coast we’ve got Sabine Lake, the Sabine jetties, Keith Lake, the surf and East Galveston Bay. In Beaumont, we’ve got the Neches River; in Lumberton, there is Village Creek; on the Texas-Louisiana border, there is the Sabine River. Farther inland is big Sam Rayburn and Toledo Bend. Below Rayburn is the very popular Angelina River.

All this aquatic access allows for all sorts of boats. A good example is Beaumont’s Texas Marine where you can buy anything from a pontoon rig, to a bass boat and bay boat. On any of our waterways, you’re apt to see anything from a kayak to a center console that’ll work on both fresh and saltwater venues.

But with the surge in boating comes water fatalities, many of which are due to drinking. Last year during the Fourth of July holiday weekend, game wardens made contact with over 30,000 boaters and arrested 58 operators for boating under the influence.

Another very interesting statistic is that last year, 40 percent of boating related fatalities involved kayaks and canoes.

“An alarming spike of boating-related fatalities on Texas waterways, including many involving paddle craft such as canoes and kayaks, is prompting a call for boaters to wear life jackets, avoid drinking alcohol and follow other safety practices heading into the peak summer boating season,” says Steve Lightfoot with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

Texas Game Wardens report more than a dozen boating-related fatalities have occurred thus far in the state during 2016, and almost half involved kayaks. Another four open water fatalities took place across the state within the past couple of weeks, including drownings and boating accidents involving motor and paddle craft.

“These tragedies represent an alarming trend we’re seeing not just in Texas, but nationwide,” said Texas Game Warden Asst. Cmdr. Cody Jones, TPWD’s head of boating law enforcement. “In 2015, over 40 percent of boating-related fatalities in Texas involved paddle craft.”

Weather conditions, including heavy rains that caused flooding and increased water flows along most rivers and creeks, have been the most significant contributing factor in paddle craft fatalities this year. TPWD Boating Education Manager Tim Spice stresses that many of those tragedies could have been avoided with safe boating practices.

According to the U.S. Coast Guard statistics, at least 85 percent of people who drown in boating accidents were not wearing a personal flotation device (PFD) at the time.

“It is important to wear your PFD at all times when in, on and around the water,” Spice said. “This is especially true in the case of small boats or paddle craft due to the increased chance of capsizing. A canoe or kayak can capsize even in calm waters. PFDs can save lives, but only when worn.”

TPWD offers online resources for a wide range of boater education and safety training, including a free online paddle craft safety course, on the agency boater education webpage. Also, 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.

Big day for big bass on T-Bend

In a recent Bass Champs tourney on T-Bend, Spike Stoker and Randy Sullivan had one heck of a day of big bass fishing. They not only caught the big bass of the tourney, weighing 10.52 pounds, but went on to catch another weighing about 9 pounds, and lost one more just about that heavy, according to Patty Lenderman with Bass Champs.

The two anglers say they were fishing deep water all day using big spoons, jigs and crank baits. They were fishing points and brush piles on the south end of the lake. The key was to fish 15 different spots – in other words, keep moving while covering lots of water. The last one they hit gave up the heaviest bass. They ended up taking second place for $10,000, and collected $1,000 for the big bass.

The husband and wife team of Mike and Ashley Gibbs of Hemphill won first place with 31 pounds and took home a $50,000 check. They started fishing a ridge in 25 feet of water that came up to 17 feet. The area had deep flooded stumps, coming up on gravel and rock.


Robert Sloan can be reached by e-mail at sloan288 [at] aol [dot] com.