For the first time in many months, we’ve gotten enough rain to bring East Texas lakes back up to normal levels, and with that in mind there should be lots of people heading to places like Sam Rayburn and Toledo Bend. Couple that with great fishing on Sabine Lake and East Galveston Bay, and there will likely be more boaters on the coast and on inland lakes than in the past couple of years.
According to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, game wardens are anticipating a busy boating season. And while they will be doing everything they can to make it a safe one, wardens could use a little help from boaters.
“Last year we had 32 boating fatalities across the state,” said Jeff Parrish, assistant chief for marine law enforcement. “Tragic as that number is, we can learn something from statistics. Of those 32 deaths, all but five were of people not wearing a personal flotation device. That really underscores the vital importance of wearing a life jacket.”
State law requires that a personal flotation device be available for each occupant of a boat, but only those under 13 years of age are mandated by the law to wear one while the boat or paddle craft is underway or drifting.
“The numbers speak for themselves,” said Parrish. “Wear a life jacket and your chances of surviving a life threatening event on the water increase 10 fold.”
While the life jacket requirement is not new, the last session of the legislature did make it mandatory that all persons born on or after Sept. 1, 1993, obtain a boater education certificate before they can legally operate a vessel with a rating of more than 15 horsepower. Anyone supervising the operation of a vessel by another must be exempt from the boater education requirement (born before 1993) or have a boater education certificate.Six of the boating deaths in 2011 were alcohol-related, underscoring the importance of not drinking while operating a boat.
“If you want to drink when you’re out on the water, do so responsibly or have a designed operator,” Parrish said. “Anyone our wardens find operating a boat while intoxicated will be going to jail.”
In addition to the 32 boating fatalities in 2011 (up four from 2011), Texas saw 229 boating accidents that resulted in 121 injuries. State game wardens and other marine enforcement officers made 259 BWI arrests and issued 305 citations for no life jacket.
“Anyone stumped on a gift idea for a high school graduate could see that they get signed up for a boater ed class,” Parrish said. “That’s a gift that could end up saving a life.”
Other than having the required boater education course, wearing a life jacket and not boating while intoxicated, Parrish said it’s a good idea to make sure someone knows where you plan on operating a boat and when you expect to return as well as paying close attention to weather reports.“Getting caught on open water in a storm is not a fun experience,” Parrish said. “If rough weather is anticipated, it’s best to stay off the water or close to shore.”
The online boaters’ safety course is offered through www.boat-ed.com/tx for $20. Boaters with the online course certificate might receive a discounted rate from their boating insurance provider.