NACOGDOCHES, Texas (KTRE) - Game wardens are stressing safety as many East Texans prepare for a weekend on the water.
Game Warden Randy Stovall said authorities will be focused on alcohol use on lakes and whether passengers are wearing life jackets. The penalty for boating while intoxicated is the same as driving while intoxicated.
“We’re looking for intoxication on the water, we’re looking for life jackets, fire extinguishers,” said Stovall. “Children under 13-years-old must wear life jackets at all times, that’s a pertinent thing that we enforce pretty harshly.”
Last year, 29 boating fatalities and hundreds of boat accidents and injuries occurred on Texas waters, according to Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD). As part of National Safe Boating Week May 18-24, TPWD law enforcement are reminding East Texans to be safe this Memorial Day weekend and all summer long by following the law and taking basic safety precautions while on the water.
“We’ve had numerous drownings in the last couple of months on Sam Rayburn, and numerous [drownings] statewide,” Stovall explained. “And one thing that I’ve experienced, I’ve never worked a drowning where a life jacket was involved. If you wear a life jacket, more than likely, it’s going to save your life.”
A safety ignition kill switch comes equipped on most motorized boats, but it only works when boat operators take the extra step to clip it on. TWPD said of the 29 boating fatalities that occurred in Texas last year, many could have been prevented if the driver had used a kill switch.
“The kill switch is mandatory on a jet ski, but even on a boat it needs to be attached to your life jacket, your wrist, somewhere on your body,” Stovall said. “If the driver of a vessel is ejected from that boat, at that point that boat is still in control; the motor is still going and it still has power.”
Stovall said he’s not a bully, and has no intentions of ruining anyone’s weekend as long as they’re following the law.
Anyone born on or after Sept. 1, 1993, must complete a boater education course to operate a personal watercraft or a boat with a 15 horsepower rating or more. Boater education courses are regularly offered in many locations around the state and boaters can find a selection of online boater courses that can be taken anytime. Paddlers can also find a free paddling safety course online.
Other important safety precautions include checking the weather before entering the water, learning to swim, and knowing the rules of the waterway before launching on the lake. For more information about boating safety, laws and requirements, visit TPWD’s boating laws website.