Safety first this fourth.
State Game Wardens are urging boaters to take extra care as thousands take to the state’s lakes and bays over the busy Independence Day holiday.
“Typically, we see more accidents on the three big summer holidays — Memorial Day, 4th of July and Labor Day weekends,” said Lt. Cody Jones, of the Marine Enforcement Section for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. “There are more people on the water and it’s usually a party atmosphere. For some folks, these holidays are the only time they go out on the water all year.”
Alcohol is believed to be a factor in about one-third of all boating fatalities in Texas. Of victims who drowned in boating accidents nationwide, approximately 85 percent were not wearing lifejackets. Penalties for Boating While Intoxicated (BWI) are similar to those for Driving While Intoxicated and can include suspension of the boat operator’s automobile driver’s license.
Six boating deaths in Texas in 2011 were alcohol-related and game wardens are stressing a zero tolerance for boating while intoxicated, underscored by the 66 BWI cases filed during last year’s 4th of July holiday. Jones said game warden saturation patrols will be in full force and are hoping to catch boaters making good choices.
“There are two things people can do that will really improve their chances of coming home safe,” said Jones. “First, designate a driver for the boat and for a safe ride home. It’s neither safe nor socially acceptable to drive drunk in a car or a truck, and the same holds true for boats. Second, wear a lifejacket.”
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,” Jones continued. “Wear a life jacket and your chances of surviving a life threatening event on the water increases 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 ed requirement (born before 1993) or have a boater ed certificate.