Memorial Day kicked off boater season, and the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department wants to remind Texans to keep themselves and others safe while on the water.
In 2017, 45 boating fatalities occurred on Texas waters, an increase of more than 28 percent from 2016.
On top of that, marine enforcement officers logged 172 boating accidents and 83 boating related injuries.
Before you even get on the water, Texas Game Warden Robbie Robinson says you must go through a boat safety course and get your operator license, along with having your boat registered before leaving the dock.
"Any person can operate a boat. But if you were born before September 1, 1993, you are exempt from the boaters’ education program. But after that, you have to make sure you do have boater’s education while operating the vessel," said Texas Game Warden Robbie Robinson.
Another important step, be prepared for anything. State law requires that every person has access to a life jacket or personal floatation device, whether you’re on a boat, kayak or on a jet ski.
"This is the time of year where it is time to think about boating safety. Make sure you have PFD’s on board for every person that is on board. Children under 13, make sure they do have them on any time the boat is in motion. It is the simple things that protect us when we are out there on the water," said Robinson.
Of course, remember not to drink and drive, even on the water. Operating a boat with a blood alcohol concentration above 0.08 percent is an offense that can lead to fines, the loss of a driver’s license and an increased risk of accidents or fatalities on the water. In 2017, game wardens issued 152 boating under-the-influence or boating while intoxicated citations across the state.
"If you are operating a boat while you are impaired under alcohol or any other drugs or anything like that, you are looking at Class B, Class A fine assessments, which are much higher and require jail time," said Robinson.
Robinson also said there will be boat patrols out watching for safe and sober boating every weekend throughout the season.
"Any time we are checking people for water safety equipment, we are also looking for fishing licenses, making sure the guides have their licenses, making sure the fish they catch are of legal limits, and quantities, making sure all the laws are being followed. The fines can be anywhere from $25-$500." said Robinson.
Boating Safety Tips:
- Always wear a life jacket.
- Avoid alcohol.
- Be especially careful on personal watercrafts.
- Children younger than age 13 must wear a U.S. Coast Guard approved PFD while underway.
- Enroll in a boater education class.
- Don’t overload your boat.
- Operate at a safe speed.
- Always have a passenger serve as a lookout in addition to the operator.
- Watch out for low water areas or submerged objects.
- Always Wear a Personal Flotation Device (PFD) or Life Jacket
- Most boating fatality victims were found (recovered) NOT wearing a PFD.
- Always carry extra PFD’s in both adult and child sizes.
- Children younger than 13 years old must wear a PFD while underway.
- Avoid Alcohol
- The probability of being killed in a boating accident doubles when alcohol is involved.
- Operating a boat under the influence is just as dangerous as driving a car after you’ve been drinking.
- Boating while intoxicated (BWI) is strictly enforced and carries penalties similar to driving while intoxicated penalties, including possible Driver’s License suspension.
- Enroll in a Boater Education Course
- It’s a good idea for the whole family to enroll in a boater education course.
- A majority (52%) vessels involved in boating accidents are operated by persons 26-50 years of age.
- For information on classroom, home video and on-line course options, visit the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Boater Education Web pages or call (800) 792-1112.
- Be Especially Careful On Personal Watercraft (PWC)
- PWC operators and passengers must wear a U.S. Coast Guard approved PFD.
- Before you borrow or rent a PWC, take the time to learn how to operate the vessel and the rules of the waterway.
- Obey the 50-foot rule! Maintain a 50-foot distance from other PWC’s, vessels, persons, shore, or stationary platform or other object unless operating at headway (idle) speed.
- Operate at a Safe Speed
- Although there are no numerical speed limits on the water, citations may be issued for excessive speed or reckless operation. Use common sense, and operate at a safe speed at all times – especially in crowded areas.
- Excessive speed is a rate of speed greater than is reasonable or prudent without regard for conditions and hazards or greater than will permit a person to bring the boat to a stop within the assured clear distance ahead.